‘Traces of the Trade’ at St. Paul’s on April 8: A Sundance Festival Film that Unearths a Hidden Legacy of Slavery in America

St. Paul’s Church invites the community to a screening of documentary film “Traces of the Trade” with follow up discussion on race, reconciliation, and healing at noon on Sunday, April 8.

Submitted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

On Sunday, April 8, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bedford will host a screening of a documentary film that unearths a hidden legacy of slavery in America.  Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North was one of the few documentaries chosen from 953 submissions to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008.  It traces a journey by Katrina Browne, the filmmaker, and nine of her cousins into the dark past of the slave trade which enriched their white New England family.

Dain Perry, one of the nine cousins, and his wife, Constance, will screen the film and facilitate a conversation on race, reconciliation, and healing at St. Paul’s (100 Pine Hill Road) on Sunday, April 8 beginning at Noon.  The screening is free and open to the public, but we ask that you call the parish office to let us know you will be coming (781-275-8262).

Traces of the Trade is both a geographical and psychological retracing of the industry of the largest slave traders in American history, the DeWolf family of Bristol, Rhode Island, and an exploration into racism in America, a legacy of slavery that continues to negatively impact the country even today.

For generations the family’s past has been hidden from view, but a group of descendants decided to retrace the Triangle Trade, from Bristol, Rhode Island, to Ghana, where they visited centuries-old slave forts and dungeons and talked with African-Americans on their own homecoming pilgrimage, to the ruins of a family-owned sugar cane plantation in Cuba.  Each encounter on their journey leaves family members shaken with new insights.  Along the way, many myths are debunked and new questions pondered.  A primary debunked myth is that the North was the center of the abolition movement and had little to do with slavery. The fact is that the North was the center of the US slave trade, and the ownership of slaves was not uncommon.

The film was shown on the PBS series Point of View (POV) in 2008, won the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film in 2009, and in 2009 was nominated for an Emmy Award for historical research.

It was greeted with excellent reviews.  Variety called it “a courageous scab-ripper of a tale.”  The Black Notes blog of the Providence Black Repertory Company praised the “complicated moral circumstances” and concluded, “it is a must-see.”  Sundance’s Geoffrey Gilmore said the film “makes a potent statement about privilege and responsibility.”  In a review Kirk Honeywell, of the Hollywood Reporter, said, the “clear-headed film represents an intense and searing call for national dialogue.”

Dain and his wife Constance are experienced facilitators who will help audience members discuss the lessons of the film.  They have conducted over 350 screenings and facilitated conversations in over 160 cities and towns across the country. One family member said the most surprising question was whether Constance, who is a descendant of slaves, knew about Dain’s family history before she married him.  The answer: yes.  Now she and her husband travel across the country as a team to screen the film and encourage group discussion of the legacy of slavery.

Dain Perry says the Episcopal Church shares responsibility for the perpetuation of the slave trade by condoning slavery while it was the dominant denomination in early America.  The family has a long connection with the church.  At least three descendants of the DeWolf’s were Episcopal bishops, and James DeWolf Perry, Dain’s grandfather, was Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the 1930’s, and many more have been Episcopal priests.  The Anti-Racism Committee of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has endorsed the work of the Perrys.

It is a “deeply moving story, amazingly told,” the retired Episcopal Bishop of Utah, Carolyn Tanner Irish, has said.  “This film opens a door to an authentic way for people of faith — indeed everyone — to walk in repentance, reconciliation, and healing of the horrors of slavery so deeply embedded in our culture and in our souls.”

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