Mon Feb 5, 2018 5:30pm

Price of Freedom: Screening of ‘Gina’s Journey’ at NHM

Sponsored by: New Haven Museum

What began simply as a 5th-grade project on family roots became a 15-year, cross-country saga for Regina Mason, and, ultimately, an award-winning film. The New Haven Museum (NHM) will host Mason for a special screening of her documentary, “Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes,” based on research of her ancestor, a former slave who escaped to freedom, lived in New Haven, and penned the first fugitive-slave narrative in U.S. history. He later was buried in the Elm City’s historic Grove Street Cemetery. Mason, and filmmaker and producer Sean Durant, will appear at NHM on Monday, February 5, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. The free event will be presented in partnership with the Amistad Committee Inc. and Friends of Grove Street Cemetery, and followed by a Q&A and a book signing.

Years after completing that school assignment, Mason maintained a curiosity about the enigmatic great, great, great grandfather she knew only as Grimes, a fugitive slave who had traveled the Underground Railroad and lived in New Haven. Long before the internet and Ancesty.com, and armed only with clues garnered from the faded pages of a family bible, Mason followed the threads of the story, and ultimately discovered that Grimes’ epic struggle was told in a little-known 1825 autobiography, “The Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, Written by Himself,” and in a later, amended edition in 1855.

During “Gina’s Journey,” both Mason and Grimes defy the odds of their times to tell their stories. Winner of the 2017 Annual Oakland International Film Festival “Roots Award,” the film conveys not only Mason’s long road to uncover her past, but also the unimaginable conditions that Grimes faced as he struggled to free himself from slavery. Mason notes particularly the heavy psychological burden of living in so-called “free” territory for nine years while constantly looking over his shoulder for those who might return him to his former master. Grimes eventually was captured, and compelled to buy his freedom for $500.

At a pivotal point in her research, Mason worked with former Librarian and Curator of Manuscripts James Campbell at the New Haven Museum’s Whitney Library. During a phone conversation confirming the Whitney Library held the 1855 edition of Grimes’s autobiography, Campbell casually mentioned that an engraving of Mason’s forbear was on the cover, a revelation that brought her to tears, and eventually to the New Haven Museum to view the volume in person.

Mason also worked with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher and E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, William L. Andrews, and, in 2008, they republished Grimes’ narrative with additional annotations/research, in a release by Oxford University Press, “The Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave.”

Mason is an international speaker, author, executive producer, and storyteller who believes in the extraordinary will of the human spirit. She challenges audiences to recast painful stories of America’s past in a light that empowers, inspires, and transforms their thinking. Her essays have appeared in “The Race Card Project,” various blogs, and “The Root.” She has presented to educational organizations and corporate and professional organizations on diversity and equity and inclusion at The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and American Cultures division at UC Berkeley, among others. She has appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, C-Span’s “Book TV,” RTE Radio of Ireland; and NPR and PBS affiliates. In addition to performing “The Raw Truth: A Slave Descendant’s Soliloquy” as narration and film, she serves as executive producer of the award-wining, feature documentary film, “Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes.”

Admission: Free
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