Freedom Hill

Princeville sits atop swampy land along the Tar River in North Carolina. In the 1800’s this land was disregarded and deemed uninhabitable by white people. After the Civil War, this indifference left it available for freed Africans to settle. Before its incorporation, residents called it ‘Freedom Hill,’ gradually establishing a self-sufficient town. Resting along the floodplain of the river, Princeville residents are no strangers to adversity. The historical town has been inundated with flooding over the centuries. Freedom Hill is a short documentary that explores the environmental racism that is washing away the town of 2,000 through the lens of Marquetta Dickens, a Princeville native who recently moved back to help save her hometown and whose grandmother casted the historic vote in 99’ as mayor against the federal and state government’s recommendation to simply move the town elsewhere .
Princeville, a main character itself, is brought to life through several vignettes: see the town organize a car caravan for Irene Jones’ 106th birthday celebration; walk through Helen Heath-Winstead’s abandoned house as she reminisces on family gatherings, holidays and birthday parties in a home that is no more. Freedom Hill uncovers the continuing legacy of racism in the U.S. and how the refusal to reckon with its own history still impacts and extends into the lives and lands of Black Americans today. The documentary uses Princeville, its residents and Marquetta’s journey back home as vehicles to examine what that responsibility, and lack thereof, looks like.

  • Resita Cox
    Regrowth; We are Witnesses:Chicago; Change the Name;
  • Eric D. Seals
    Director of Photography
    Tulsa Burning; The Takeover; Change the Name
  • Dana Glass
    Associate Producers
  • Richard Williams
    Associate Producers
  • Donnie Seals Jr.
  • Resita Cox
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    22 minutes 43 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 30, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    85,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
    Durham, NC
    United States
    World Premiere
    NEW DOCS, Official Selection
Director Biography - Resita Cox

Resita Cox’s films are a poetic portrayal of her community’s irrepressible spirit and resilience in the face of racism. Her documentary film work is people based, meaning it not only features unique, personal stories, but it also prioritizes relationships and is constantly working to reimagine an equitable filmmaking model. Born and raised in the South, her films center Southern, Black communities and use them as a lens to examine topics ranging from environmental justice to racial justice. With a degree in journalism from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Resita started her career as a storyteller in TV news as a reporter in North Carolina and later in Chicago. Resita has worked with Kartemquin Films as the Impact Producer on their Emmy-nominated docu-series produced with The Marshall Project, We Are Witnesses. She is the director of Freedom Hill, an award-winning documentary about the environmental racism that is washing away the first town chartered by Black people in the nation, with which she was named a 2021 Hulu/Kartemquin Accelerator Fellow and premiered at the 2022 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and has since screened across the country and Canada. She holds an MFA from Northwestern University in Documentary Film and is a 2021 North Star fellow with Points North Institute. Resita was recently named a 2022 Esteemed Artist by the City of Chicago and is one of Elevate’s 2022 Climate Changemakers

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Director Statement

Home smells like cigarettes and Sunday family dinners - neckbones and potatoes. Like rain water during hurricane season. Feels like sitting still during a storm so “God can do His work” in peace, as my grandmother put it. I grew up in her house, in Kinston, North Carolina, just an hour from Princeville. As Princeville sits along the Tar River, Kinston rests along the Neuse. My grandmother’s house sits upon the only land my family has ever owned. This is the only home I’ve ever known and the only instance of home ownership in my entire family. 2016 led me back to Eastern North Carolina, where I covered the 15 counties that make up that part of the state as a reporter with WCTI-TV.

Just one month into my career as a TV news reporter, I would witness something devastating - my hometown and the entire Eastern part of the state was underwater after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the coast. At a news station where many of the reporters were from out of state, I was the only reporter forced to grapple with reporting on the flooding while also housing some of my family in my one-bedroom apartment as they had to evacuate their home due to the storm. I grew up just one hour away from Princeville and didn’t learn about the town's historical significance until I was sent there to cover the flood damage. This film is of severe personal significance to me as my roots are in North Carolina, and thus in Princeville.

The threat to these communities continue to grow as the ability to rebuild continually becomes lesser. As with my grandmother’s house, relocating is not an option, due to financial reasons as well as spiritual. We are bound to this land by history. There is a spiritual connection to these spaces that deserves to be protected and passed down. It is not just the future of Princeville that is uncertain, it is the future of our entire country and planet.