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By Renee Buck

GENRE: Historical, Biography
LOGLINE: Born a slave in Dutch Guiana, a brilliant young man seeks a new start in post-Civil War Massachusetts. But when union thugs threaten his survival, he invents a machine that promises to revolutionize the shoe industry, pitting himself against a powerful and malicious hand-crafter’s union determined to maintain the status quo.


The extraordinary true story of Jan Matzeliger is one of perseverance, determination and sheer grit in the face of crushing racism and union resistance to technological change. But it’s his relationships with the women in Jan’s life that gives the story heart. Jan is just 3 years old when his mother, the beautiful Alleta, dies a slave on a coffee plantation, and his Dutch aunt, Henrietta Matzeliger raises him. With abolition around the corner, Henrietta strong-arms Jan’s father, Ernst into taking his bastard child as an engineering apprentice in the family business—the colonial shipworks. Jan grows into a gifted engineer, but his father refuses to treat him equally to his peers. Deeply hurt, Jan leaves, determined to prove his father wrong…and reappears in “Shoe City,” Lynn, Massachusetts—the shoe capital of the world in 1877. Jan seeks work as an engineer, but his dreams are quickly dashed as he is ushered into the black ghetto and his only way into a shoe factory is with a broom in hand. Shaken and humiliated, Jan swallows his pride and takes up the broom at PJ Harney Shoes. But when the Hand-Lasters—whose craft is the only one yet to succumb to technology advancement—taunt him and threaten his survival with bullying union tactics, Jan puts his genius to work designing a machine to replace them, a goal that has eluded industry giants for decades. Fearing Jan’s success, the Lasters threaten Jan and his machine at every turn, but he refuses to give in. When they attack his secret love, Florence, however, Jan gives up. Florence however, demands that Jan rise to the challenge, fulfill his destiny and not let the Lasters win! With help from unexpected sources, Jan’s invention gets the boost it needs, and the Lasters are finally put to shame in a public demonstration of man vs. machine. In a bittersweet ending, Jan’s new-found fame wins him the social status he longs for and the long-awaited respect from his father, but alas, Florence will never be his. When their forbidden love is discovered by her father, she is forced into a loveless marriage with a family friend. And yet…the legend of Jan and Florence’s powerful love endures, a testament to testament to its truth.


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