Update from the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery

Posted December 3rd, 2012 by James DeWolf Perry

This is the latest newsletter from the Tracing Center, the non-profit founded to carry out the mission of Traces of the Trade. If you would like to receive occasional updates from them, you can sign up for their mailing list here.

Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery

Dear friends and colleagues,We’d like to take a moment to share with you a little bit about what we’ve been doing in the last few months.Now in our third year, we continue to design and offer ground-breaking programs and events that advance the mission growing out of our award-winning PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Through our programs, we engage people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, and inspire action around these issues.

We’re excited to announce that on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and emancipation, and the 50th anniversary of major civil rights landmarks, we’re launching a public initiative inviting all Americans to reflect on the unfinished business of slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights era. Stayed tuned for details in the months ahead.

Do you have feedback or a suggestion for us, such as an issue that you’d like to see us address in our programs or on our blog? Please e-mail us.

Here are a few highlights of our recent activities:

  • We generated more than 80 presentations across the country in 2012, at schools, colleges, churches, historic sites, and non-profit organizations, impacting thousands with our message of racial justice and healing.
  • We led a workshop, at the invitation of the state senate president, for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and their staff.
  • We signed a contract and began research for a book, Interpreting Slavery, edited by Kristin Gallas and James Perry. The book will be published by Rowman & Littlefield and will offer analysis and case studies for the interpretation of slavery at museums and historic sites.
  • We designed and conducted innovative workshops for history and social studies teachers and students in Georgia, Massachusetts, Virginia, and D.C., and presented programs at colleges and universities, including Harvard and Dartmouth.
  • We began a collaboration to research and disseminate best practices for interpreting slavery at historic sites and museums. Our partners include the National Park Service, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Colonial Williamsburg, and Monticello.
  • We participated in the 4th Traveling Caribbean Film Showcase, which brought the film and its message to Belize, Curacao, Angola, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbuda, Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Martinique.
  • We conducted professional training for graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, as part of our efforts to improve how those in the public sector address the black/white divide.
  • We participated in the 77th Episcopal General Convention, sharing our work with several thousand attendees, and strengthened our relationships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Methodist Church, and Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • We presented at national and regional conferences, including the American Association for State and Local History’s Annual Meeting, National Association for Interpretation’s 2012 National Workshop, New England Museum Association’s annual conference, Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail Annual Spring Symposium, 43rd Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies, and New England Black History Conference.

To keep up to date with our work, we encourage you to visit our blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Also please feel free to forward this email to friends and family who might want to join our mailing list.

Thank you,

The Tracing Center team

Traces of the Trade

“Powerful is an inadequate word to describe the impact of Katrina Browne’s Traces of the Trade …. [This] clear-headed film represents an intense and searing call for national dialogue.”

– Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

Elmina Castle, from Traces of the Trade In Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, filmmaker Katrina Browne makes a troubling discovery – her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She and nine fellow descendants set out to retrace the “triangle trade,” from their Rhode Island hometown to slave forts in Ghana and plantation ruins in Cuba. Step by step, they uncover the extent of Northern complicity in slavery while stumbling through the minefield of contemporary race relations. Traces of the Trade offers powerful new perspectives on the black/white divide.

Want to reach someone at the Tracing Center?

James DeW. Perry, Executive Director
Juanita C. Brown, Education Program Officer
Katrina C. Browne, Director of Ideas and External Affairs
Kristin L. Gallas, Director of Interpretation Projects
Marga Varea, Director of Events and Development


Thank you to all the individuals who generously donated to our programs in the past year, and to our 2012 institutional funders, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation.


“Next week, students will tackle a portion of American History we are sometimes hesitant to face head on. Slavery and the Slave Trade. We will be using an excellent documentary titled, Traces of the Trade. Every year I do a survey about my class and this week is one specifically mentioned by students as their favorites. I’m always impressed with the honest dialogue [the film] creates and the questions they ask.”

– Dave McIntire, The Independent School (Kansas)

“Last week’s workshop … ranks among one of the most meaningful I’ve ever attended and will have direct impact on the faculty I lead and the curriculum we teach.”

– Teacher workshop participant

“The movie and following discussions were one of the most interesting and meaningful presentations I’ve experienced in my 17 years at the school. I grew up in the south and experienced some of the most difficult times there in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ve always know firsthand about the effects of slavery in the south, but knew almost nothing of the history in the north.”

– Massachusetts teacher (department chair)

“It was an inspirational experience. You engaged us with the power and personal meaning of the account with the video and then made it human with your sensitive, intelligent, compassionate, and courageous dialogue. Your presentation was one of the most moving I have ever attended.”

David Costello, Head of School, St. Peter’s School (Penns.)

Please share your feedback with us, too.
  • Joshua Michael Howard

    Sadden and frustrated by the ignorance

  • Joshua Michael Howard

    So odd to see people who have lived a proud life seen so lost when they say that they should not have to help….ugh…exhausting

  • Joshua Michael Howard

    Ok, now I can truly respond to your blog. I am the mother of Joshua Howard, I and my family watched the documentary at least 10 times last week. September 2014. I never heard of this before….I wonder why?

    My friend got it in the public library. Thank you for making it available. I understand your confusion about how to “repair the damage done to the black people who were enslaved by the slave trade.

    However, it seems very evident that a dialogue should be opened up and a book written that can be used in all schools. Most people know that slavery is passed over and Abraham Lincoln is mentioned and they move on to the next topic.

    But now that you see and look around you that there is real damage and real hurt people from slavery it is time to put a stop to the blame game.

    Your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather may not have been able to tell you his reason for the slave trade but it is self evident that it was clear to me.

    Blacks were human gold at that time. Blacks were being purchased and used as the natural resource just like a horse or cow.

    So the Gross National Product of this country was the negro slave that was forced and unpaid labor.

    From what was discussed in your video, the Triangle Slave Trade made the slaves invisible to RhodeIsland. So Basically the negroes were hidden on the slave ships and the Cuban Shores where they were producing Sugar and molasses and rum.

    And then the Dewolfs let the Negroes that were used for plantations on the Cuban shores stay there where today most likely most of the negros speaking Spanish had been left to life or die sink or swim when the Dewolfs decided to take their foot off of the necks of those slaves.

    So now here we are so many years ago and we find the negroes living in a Communist country. Negro Slaves and the decedents knew nothing of the Communistic beliefs.

    This is terrible. Because in your documentary it appears that the white woman historian in your documentary extras portion—clearly states that once the actual slave trade had been abolished, the white Americans were hoping that the “negroes would just die out like the DoDo Bird.” Are you kidding me?

    Yet you say to me in your Video the gentleman who stated that he did not want to Villianize his ancestor Mr. James Dewolf because he was not present when he made that decision do the slave business…I don’t understand.

    You think it is not a reason to villianize Mr. James Dewolf? What justification can you give to that? He was a criminal short and simple. You call pimp in todays society a criminal because he sells woman’s body as sexual objects for profit and the women gets paid.

    How can you not call Mr. James Dewolf a criminal? I am quite sure drug dealers and Pimps have a reason for selling women or drugs. There cannot possibly be a good reason to do that. There was not good reason to sell negroes for slavery. I do not care if their were negro African Kings that sold slaves to them…you did not have to purchase them. I sold for profit and your ancestors purchased the negroes pennies to the dollar cheap. The negroes 10,000 strong…that number is probably wrong it most likely was higher…..more like a million…people don’t tell the full story… It is just plain wrong. Your Mr. James Dewolf profited from the slave trade. How dare you consider the wrongs as innocent things. I believe that all humans are living today by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ …so please let us talk honestly with each other.

    How can you be so ignorant to think that I did not see your glossing over the issue. Because you must look at the youth of today, especially the black youth.

    You say that the black people are looking for affirmative Action appointments to get jobs, or some special treatment.

    Well I see you had no problem to have special treatment from being of a Dewolf Descendant. Will you had over your last name , and tell your college to take back your college degree? Oh of course not because you truly believe you worked for it.

    Well, so did my negro ancestors. Their were the 58% of the America’s gross national product that produced the cotton and sugar and tobacco from farming on your plantations for just a shack and some food….Stolen people used to work for nothing.

    Yet you believe that You have more rights than that of the natural human negroes that farmed your plantations for no wages at all!

    How dare you say your forefathers were FORCED to be in the slave trade?

    OH please….spare me the weak statements declaring your Mr. James Dewolf an innocent man that Had no idea why he was going to Africa , Ghana to be exact.

    Mr. James Dewolf and his brothers knew exactly what they were doing!

    He knew what he was doing. Do you know I showed your video to my friend and she had NIGHTMARES from your ignorance?

    Repariations? You don’t know what to do about it?

    If you really are Christians as you profess yourselves to be….I am quite sure in your heart of hearts….Jesus already told you what you and your cousins and all other Descendants from Mr. James Dewolf—and other slave based trade families need to do.

    Stop kidding around and get on your knees before our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ and ask for the answer. Jesus already forgave you but now what should be done about the wild black kids you have created by not allowing negroes the freedoms you have had and the benefits of a good solid Harvard and Yale education? Tell me that you did not know about SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL EDUATION? Tell me that you did not know about JIM CROWE LAWS? Tell me that you did not know about the KKK that kept the negroe men afraid about lynching? Tell me that you and your family blamed the negroes for their poverty when they could not get a decent job. Tell me that you and your ancestors and current cousins didn’t wish the negroe problem would just disappear like the dinosaurs? Well this problem will not disappear…it must be fixed…it must be REPAIRED.

    If you truly believe in our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ he will give you the answer. Stop ignoring prayer and try it today. I will write more on this topic. I am the mother of Joshua Howard. I am 53 years old and I have lived through many years of racism in this world and I wrote this blog. Please contact me for further dialogue. Have a blessed day. P.S. I AM A CELLIST AND AND COLLEGE EDUCATED NEGRO…..I AM NOT ASKING FOR A HAND OUT….But there are others not as fortunate as I. What are you going to do about them and future generations.

    Again…have a blessed day and let us continue to dialogue. The future of the human race not just the negroe or the white…the HUMAN RACE depends upon a solution.

  • Veronica

    I watched the documentary tonight and I would like to applaud your family for your honest self examinations and for sharing your true feelings in the film.

    For many African Americans, reparations should start with the kind of education that you all had in recognizing that there is an unequal playing field and that racism is still alive in the hearts of many Caucasian Americans today.

    It brought tears to my eyes when I saw most of the church congregation go to the altar. That for me let’s me know that there is hope that one day, maybe not in my lifetime, but one day, we all may be able to see past color and peer into the hearts of others.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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