Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 11:46 pm
|I watched a repeat of this show last evening...
"Powerful is an inadequate word to describe the impact of Katrina Browne's 'Traces of the Trade' ... Browne's clear-headed film represents an intense and searing call for national dialogue."
- Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
In this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, one might think the tragedy of African slavery in the Americas has been exhaustively told. Katrina Browne thought the same, until she discovered that her slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island were not an aberration. Rather, they were just the most prominent actors in the North's vast complicity in slavery, buried in myths of northern innocence.
As the film recounts, the DeWolf name has been honored over the generations in the family's hometown of Bristol, Rhode Island, and on the national stage. Family members have been prominent citizens: professors, writers, legislators, philanthropists, Episcopal priests and bishops. If the DeWolfs' slave trading was mentioned at all, it was in an offhand way, with reference to scoundrels and rapscallions.
Then Browne's grandmother opened the door a crack. She wrote a DeWolf history booklet with a brief but pointed reference to the slave trade, which prompted Browne to look deeper. What she learned, and the journey she undertook with other DeWolf descendants, retracing early America's infamous trade in rum, slaves and sugar, revealed secrets hidden in plain sight. Archival documents -- from logs and diaries to detailed business correspondence, cancelled checks and sales records detailing a global economy -- unsettle not just a family, but a nation's assumptions about its not-so-distant history.
With the exception of Tom DeWolf, who wrote a book about the trip, Inheriting the Trade, several of the 10 DeWolf descendants are Ivy League graduates. The family's preponderance of elite alma maters shows that its privilege endures. The DeWolf slave fortunes were plowed into other, legitimate businesses, a pattern matched in the larger U.S. economy.
From this extraordinary family angle, "Traces of the Trade" sets out to plumb contentious questions: What is the full story of the northern slave trade? What responsibility does white America bear for the past wrongs and contemporary legacy of slavery? Why is it so difficult for black and white Americans to have this conversation? Intrepid, candid, intellectually engaged and, for better or worse, "unfailingly Protestant and polite," Browne and her relatives set out to face the facts -- and themselves.
Browne -- a direct descendant of Mark Anthony DeWolf, the first slaver in the family -- took the unusual step of writing to 200 descendants, inviting them to journey with her from Rhode Island to Ghana to Cuba and back, recapitulating the Triangle Trade that made the DeWolfs the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Nine relatives signed up. "Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North" is Browne's spellbinding account of the journey that resulted. The program airs Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 10:00-11:30 p.m. (check local listings) on PBS, launching the 21st season of P.O.V.. American television's longest-running independent documentary series, P.O.V. is public television's premier showcase for point-of-view, nonfiction films and a 2007 recipient of the Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking.
"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac
"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."
~Harry S. Truman