Mon 21 Jan, 2008
Tags: Bicentennial, Racial inequality, Reparations
The panel, entitled “An MLK Day Discussion: The Legacy of the Slave Trade 200 Years After Its Abolition,” also included panelists Dedrick Muhammad, of the Institute for Policy Studies, and Katrina Browne, producer/director of Traces, and was moderated by Orlando Bagwell, an award-winning documentary filmmaker currently with the Ford Foundation.
The panel was held to discuss how the legacy of the slave trade affects contemporary society and how that legacy might be overcome. It was held in conjunction with the world premiere of Traces of the Trade, and marked the launch of the second phase of that project, in which we begin to show the film to the public and initiate our dialogue and outreach efforts.
Dedrick discussed ways in which blacks in the U.S. remain far behind whites in social and economic terms, and Katrina outlined several steps which she hopes some members of the D’Wolf family will follow in order to address structural inequality in our society. Those steps include public education and dialogue about the legacy of the slave trade, through screenings of the film in educational, civic, and religious settings; and national political efforts, including the commemoration of the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade, and H.R. 40.
Congressman Conyers suggested that he would like to screen Traces to his colleagues on Capitol Hill, saying that the film itself “would say more than a half-dozen hearings” on this issue.
I will post another entry shortly, relating more of what the panelists had to say about the enduring legacy of the slave trade, and offering a few of my own thoughts on the subject. For the moment, I want to end by quoting Congressman Conyers in his press statement on this occasion:
I have followed the production of Katrina Browne’s Traces of the Trade from its earliest stages. She has bravely chosen to examine her family’s history in a manner free of myth and false sentiment ….
The most enduring myth of American history is that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves and that the blood shed in that war cleansed the taint of slavery from the soul of this nation. This myth has allowed us to ignore the culpability of the North in the institution of slavery, the injustices of Jim Crow and the lingering effects of slavery ….
The African American community faces a myriad of striking disparities and barriers. … This reality is the result of the social, economic, and political disenfranchisement that African Americans have endured throughout our experience in this country. For a majority of this nation’s history, this disenfranchisement was mandated by law. Disparities in education, housing, healthcare and other critical aspects of society have been the consequence. …
For over 19 years, I have introduced the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40) – not to spark controversy or promote division – but to further a national dialogue on the plight of Africans Americans in the context of slavery, Jim Crow, and other legally sanctioned forms of discrimination. … Through the work of an H.R. 40 commission, I believe that this nation could come closer to racial equality and understanding. …
I must confess that I do not know where a study will take us, but I am hopeful that it will take us in the right direction. … While a commission will not erase the past, it can bring us closer to racial reconciliation and advancement as a 21st century multicultural society.