THE STORY

The Latimer Legacy is a powerful documentary spanning twelve decades, unraveling the lives of George and Lewis Latimer. The film vividly portrays the impact of racial prejudice, the failures of Reconstruction, and a flawed judicial system on the evolution of systemic racism in our modern society. The first hour follows George and Rebecca’s journey, shedding light on their struggle for liberty, the landmark George Latimer court case, and the abolitionist movement’s triumphs, culminating in the Great Massachusetts Petition. The second hour focuses on Lewis Latimer, an unsung inventor who overcame racism and collaborated with renowned white scientists, contributing significantly to inventions like the evaporative air conditioner and the perfected lightbulb. Despite his monumental contributions, Lewis’s legacy remains obscured due to systemic racism. This project aims to confront the historical roots of structural racism and amplify the Latimer legacy as a catalyst for systemic change in America.

PART ONE

THE STORY OF GEORGE LATIMER

George Washington Latimer was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1819, to Mitchell Latimer, a white man, and Margaret Olmsted, an enslaved woman owned by his uncle Edward A. Latimer. Early in his life, George worked as a domestic servant under Edward Mallery, later becoming a dray driver and shopkeeper. Despite facing imprisonment twice due to his enslaver’s debts, he was eventually sold to James B. Gray, a shop owner who mistreated him. In 1842, George and his pregnant wife Rebecca successfully escaped slavery, finding refuge in Boston. However, Gray identified George, leading to his arrest on false larceny charges on October 20.

George’s imprisonment, (known as the The George Latimer Case) sparked outrage within the black community, leading to unsuccessful rescue attempts and solidified the abolitionist movement in the United States. Despite legal efforts for his freedom, George remained incarcerated, fueling widespread protests and meetings across Massachusetts. In response to his arrest, the Latimer Committee created petitions advocating the cessation of state involvement in detaining suspected fugitives and cutting ties between Massachusetts and slavery. While the petitions played a crucial role in the passage of the 1843 Liberty Act, known as the “Latimer Law,” George’s freedom was secured through fundraising initiatives. The petitions, especially the “Great Massachusetts Petition,” gathered over 64,000 signatures, becoming instrumental in the abolitionist movement. Despite the Congress petition not resulting in legislative action, George Latimer’s arrest spurred the establishment of the New England Freedom Association and intensified collective action within the black community. George’s emancipation was achieved through the purchase of his freedom from James B. Gray for $400, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle against slavery.

PART TWO

LEWIS LATIMER: INNOVATIVE INVENTOR OVERCOMING RACIAL CHALLENGES

Lewis Howard Latimer, born on September 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was the fourth child of George and Rebecca Latimer, and his story takes center stage in the second hour of our documentary. Lewis, an unsung hero of modern invention, faced the formidable challenges of racism and poverty, yet his contributions remain largely unknown. Against the backdrop of a racially divided society, Lewis Latimer defied the odds, collaborating with some of the most prominent white scientific inventors in American history, including Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram Maxim, and Thomas Edison. His groundbreaking inventions include pioneering the evaporative air conditioner, significant contributions to the development of the telephone, and perfecting the lightbulb. Lewis’s achievements also extend to publishing the first book on electricity research and holding seven patents despite being responsible for ten.

However, despite his immense contributions, Lewis Latimer never reaped the financial rewards of his innovations, and his name has been regrettably omitted from history books. This glaring oversight can be attributed to the systemic racism ingrained in American society for centuries. Lewis passed away in 1928, and his final resting place in an unmarked grave stands as an unacceptable testament to the racial disparities he endured throughout his extraordinary life. The documentary sheds light on this hidden chapter of history, ensuring that Lewis Howard Latimer receives the recognition he rightfully deserves.