Tom DeWolf, the author of Inheriting the Trade, was interviewed this afternoon on the Cliff Kelley Show on WVON-AM radio (“The Talk of Chicago”).

This turned into a lengthy and well-received interview, with Tom being asked to stay well into the show’s second hour to continue the conversation and being asked to return another time.

I have several comments after the jump, but the full interview with Tom can be heard here.

In the interview, Tom touches on a number of important issues related to the book, including the idea that guilt over the past is not only inappropriate, but is often counter-productive; why he believes that someone with his background must consider gender along with race to do this work; and the reasons he’s written a book dwelling on such a dark, distant episode in the family’s history.

There was an amusing moment in the interview, when a caller asked whether the DeWolf family plans to set up scholarships for black Americans, or to fund schools in Ghana. Tom was able to offer a detailed response about his goals, and those of other family members, especially in the areas of education and dialogue. What he didn’t have a chance to say, however, was that the family doesn’t have any slave-trade wealth with which to finance solutions to the legacy of the slave trade.

Cliff Kelley was a thoughtful and supportive interviewer, asking pertinent questions and allowing Tom, and the callers, to get their points across. As I mentioned briefly above, Kelley spontaneously extended the interview after the hour was up, asking Tom to stay well into the show’s next hour, which was drive-time in Chicago. He also emphasized that he would invite Tom back again, and wants to find a way to bring Traces of the Trade to Chicago as well. Kelley, who has traveled in Africa, also pointed out, more than once, that present-day Africans are themselves the descendants of those who sold the slaves to European and American slave traders.

To me, though, easily the most important moment in the interview came about an hour in. A respectful but passionate caller asked Tom, rhetorically, how it could be possible to speak of healing the wounds of slavery when so many people have suffered, and are still suffering, based on the color of their skin. Tom agreed with the caller’s point and emphasized that talk about justice must be matched with action.

Tom went on to argue that whites and blacks in this country have been taught enmity towards each other. In Tom’s view, we have been set up in opposition against one another as part of the legacy of slavery; in order to move forward, we must recognize that this enmity is a false one and that we are in this fight together. Cliff Kelley then neatly reinforced this point, by returning to his observation that black Africans, including those we visited in Ghana, themselves benefited from the slave trade. In other words, the dreadful legacy of slavery has never divided blacks and whites as neatly as Americans have been taught to suppose. We will not understand history, or seize opportunities for change, if we insist on thinking in strictly black-and-white terms, even about the problem of race.

6 Responses to “Tom DeWolf on WVON Chicago”

  1. Inheriting the Trade says:

    […] has added it to the book’s website (under Multimedia Coverage on February 26) as well as to his blog (along with his own comments about the […]

  2. Hepsieuy says:

    i am gonna show this to my friend, guy

  3. Scholarships For Bla says:

    Scholarships For Blacks…

    Found your blog on yahoo – thanks for the article but i still don’t get it….

  4. STRANGE says:


  5. James says:

    That’s exactly right — there’s no money left from the slave traders in Bristol.

    Fortunately, from our point of view, that fortune was squandered within a generation or two. Some branches of the family did end up marrying into money, through the social connections which the D’Wolf fortune had made possible, so there are some DeWolf descendants who are quite well off financially.

    Does it make a difference? Should money that derives, two centuries ago, from the slave trade be given up? What about other money, if it’s held by the descendants of slave traders? Should that money be given up as compensation?

  6. knowgoodwhitepeople says:

    I saw a copy of the Traces of the Trade dvd recently and was impressed most by its frankness. You could really see the transformation of the participants as they began to realize exactly what the term “slave trade” actually means. It was interesting and inspiring to see how the DeWolf descendants grappled with their “immoral inheritance”. I saw it as a metaphor for America herself.

    The one element that was missing for me however was a parallel understanding of what it means to have descended from those traded Africans. I would like to know how some of their descendants are doing today, and how their educational and economic outcomes compare to (even the poorest of) the DeWolf’s.

    As far as compensation is concerned, I think it’s not individual families, but the American government’s debt to pay. (Although I do think the government could recoup some of what she pays in reparations from families/corporations who benefitted by restructuring the tax code)

    The United States of America’s great wealth is directly attributable to the slave labor by which its coffers were filled to overflowing. I feel that every American whose ancestors were enslaved is owed a debt. I do believe in reparations, but I would like to see it delivered in the form of free education for the descendants of slaves. Reparations should exist for as many years as slavery did.

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