A slave-trading story from the deep north

Friday’s episode of The Story, a public radio show about, well, stories and storytelling, is devoted to Katrina Browne’s family story. She discovered that her family –The DeWolfes from Bristol, Rhode Island– had been the largest slave trading family in the history of the U.S.

40 minutes of the hour-long show is a conversation with Katrina and Dick Gordon (The Story‘s host) about what Katrina did in response: visit the locations where the slave trade took place—Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba. She invited members of the extended family to go, and 9 accepted. It’s a spell-binding listen.

Browne (along with Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray) made a documentary film from the trip—Traces of the Trade, which was just premiered at Sundance and will be shown on PBS’s P.O.V. this summer. (The timing of the film release is significant; it coincides with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave tradiding.) A relative, Thomas DeWolf, went on that trip and wrote his experiences into a memoir, Inheriting the Trade. There’s a blog, too , with lots of Sundance Film Festival experiences.

P.O.V. Blog on the screenings has Q & A with Tom DeWolf, and the kinds of discussions they’ve been having with viewers after the screening:

The conversations last as long as the theatre management allows them to continue. Traces of the Trade, and my book, Inheriting the Trade, at their core, are invitations to a deeper conversation about race in the United States. People are engaged and ask probing and thoughtful questions. It feels to me that many people hunger for this conversation, but we’ve been trained from birth to avoid it.

UPDATE: Related to this, Tim Abbot of Walking the Berkshires meditates on the pervasiveness of slave-holding in the north, and recounts what he knows of his ancestors’s involvement with slave-ownership in his post, The Tally Sheet of Shame, the second in his five-day series  on slavery and ancestry.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 12, 2008 in • BooksDocumentary Films
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