Reflections on The Trenton Project Screening: What’s in a Name and Encounters with the Archives by Eman Maan, ProCES Student Office Associate

Oct. 19, 2022

On September 27, 2022, The Trenton Project: What’s in a Name and Encounters with the Archives screening took place inside an airy, well-lit warehouse that previously housed one of Trenton’s many factories producing essential raw materials for bridges. Currently a community venue for hosting workshops and events, the warehouse is a wide, open, and colorful space. Upon walking in, one immediately notices the countless circus instruments scattered throughout. Shortly before the show, there was a workshop for Trenton youth, all of whom were walking around on stilts, speeding by on unicycles, and demonstrating an impressive level of skill and dexterity that put me to shame. It truly set the scene of community and camaraderie for the event to follow.

The evening was hosted as part of The Trenton Project, which began in 2012 as a collaborative documentary investigation with the aim of exploring the 1960s in Trenton as a turbulent and racially-charged time in the city’s history that forever changed its landscape. This year marked the tenth year of collaborating with the residents and community of Trenton to examine the fabric of the city’s life and history. The screening focused particularly on the intersection of public history, archival research, personal stories, and individual memories, as captured on camera through the eyes of student filmmakers. Professor Purcell Carson, independent documentary filmmaker and editor who has been directing and producing The Trenton Project since its inception, and Professor Alison Isenberg, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities oversaw the creation of the documentaries.

The first part of the evening was dedicated to “What’s in a Name?” a short film produced by Safa Daftani, La-Tina Graham, Jodie de Jesus, Azariah Jones, Adam Sanders, and Theo Wells-Spackman, a collective of Summer 2022 ProCES Derian Interns and ASAP (Aspiring Scholars and Professionals) interns. It was filmed in collaboration with students and teachers from the Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School in Trenton. This film goes behind the scenes of “Janet Wide Awake,” a theatrical performance in which a young girl discovers the racially segregated history of her school and is empowered to make changes in her present circumstances. Although “Janet Wide Awake” itself is a well-polished performance, this film highlights the necessity of the innovative and collaborative spirit in embodying the stories of the past. This was followed by a Q&A session.

The second part of the evening was dedicated to the documentary shorts produced by students enrolled in the Spring 2022 History course Documentary, Youth, and the City. A total of nine shorts ranging from 5 to 8 minutes from nine students were screened. From Nathalie Barnes, we saw “Black Sight: Representation of and by Black Trentonians,” which delved into the triumphs and victories of Black representation during the 60s and 70s in Trenton through the lives and works of photographers Richard Andrews and Shotski Jones. Jasmine Berger produced, “Lynching Northern Style: The Trenton 6,” which demonstrated the tragic and oft-forgotten case of The Trenton 6, six Black men accused of murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. “Behind the Headlines: Black Youth Activism at Trenton Central High School” by Julia Chaffers focused on the activism of Black youth in Trenton leading up to the 1968 uprisings, particularly from students at the Trenton Central High School. Shannon Chaffers spearheaded “413 Families: A Community’s Fight for Survival in Coalport,” which explored the impact of Trenton’s urban renewal program in Coalport and the story of those who were forced to evacuate despite attempts to save their homes. From Isadora Alsadir Krutsen, we saw “That Trigger,” which spun Trenton as not only a physical landscape but a place that lives in people’s minds and memories through generations. Azariah Jones’ “Rites of Passage” unpacked both archival documents and lived experiences centering around the Mercer Street Friends Center to understand how absence and, conversely, presence can mold the version of history we call our own. From James Kontulis, we saw “One City, Two Young Athletes in Red, Black, and White,” which traced the impact of sports on Trenton’s youth in the 60s and its role in broadening viewpoints. “Broadening the Scope: Black History Matters Beyond the Month of February” from Ndeye Thiobou demonstrated the necessity of including the work of the city’s African American educators from the 60s in the history curriculums of schools in the district today. Finally, “Speaking Up” from Austin Davis rounded up the evening by reminding attendees of the importance of speaking up for your fellow students by recounting the story of Linda Walker, a woman who did exactly that.

ProCES would like to extend the heartiest congratulations to all students who demonstrated an exceptional level of talent and empathy in listening to and re-telling these stories through their own lens. In addition, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all participants, critics, collaborators, and well-wishers in the making of this series – this work would not have made it without you. Thank you sincerely and we hope to continue working with you!