Best Kept Secret, The

Produced by: 
Directed by Muneerah Higgs and Produced with the Lawnside Historical Society
23 min

Julian Berrian and Donna Lee


The video takes viewers on a tour of the home of Peter Mott, once a safe haven on the Underground Railroad, for which he served as a "conductor." Mott, a free African American man, abolitionist and real estate entrepreneur, didn't have much by today's standards. But considered by 19th century mores, he was exceptional. And he risked everything to help enslaved Africans be free.

The documentary features dramatizations, Mott-savvy Lawnside residents, historical preservationists, architects and other community members, local efforts to save and extensively renovate the house, and what this piece of history -- almost lost to a bulldozer and replaced by pristine townhouses in the late 1980s -- means to Lawnside and the larger world.

The Lawnside Historical Society's mission is to preserve and protect the heritage of Lawnside, N.J., the state's only African-American incorporated municipality, by restoring the Peter Mott House for use as a museum and station along the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network to freedom for fugitives in the 19th century. The Society conducts tours of the Peter Mott House and provides speakers for groups and organizations. In December 2005, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities awarded Lawnside Historical Society a $3000 grant to create an oral history project.

In addition to her work as a videomaker, Muneerah Higgs is a veteran of the Lawnside Public Schools, where she works as a Social Studies teacher. She won the 2004 Mildred Barry Garvin Teacher of the Year Award, which crowned her the best history teacher on the elementary level in the state. That same year, she went to South Africa in the summer of 2004 as a Fulbright Scholar. Upon her return, she developed a curriculum for New Jersey teachers called "The Soweto Uprisings."

Public Screenings, Broadcasts and Festivals: 

December 11, 2002 - Part of Community Visions premiere at the Prince Music Theater (Philadelphia, PA)
July 29, 2003 &
August 2, 2003 - Broadcast on WYBE-TV's Philadelphia Stories, Season 3 (Philadelphia, PA)
2004 - Lawnside Scholarship Club Luncheon (Lawnside, NJ)
February 2004 - Lawnside Public School (Lawnside, NJ)
2004-2005 - Peter Mott House (regular screenings throughout the year)
January 15-April 25, 2005 - A 20-minute version of The Best Kept Secret was shown twice daily at the Atwater Kent Museum as part of its "Small Towns, Black Lives" exhibit (Philadelphia, PA)
March & April 2005 - Kent Atwater Museum (regular screenings)