The national broadcast premiere of Traces of the Trade on PBS begins this evening at 10:00pm.

Local PBS stations will carry the broadcast on different days and times, so be sure to check your local listings (opens in a new window).

Here are the Boston area broadcast days and times:

  • Wednesday, June 25, 7:30pm (WGBX World)
  • Thursday, June 26, 3:00am (WGBX-44)
  • Sunday, June 29, 12:00pm (WGBX World)
  • Sunday, June 29, 9:00pm (WGBX-44)
  • Monday, June 30, 10:00pm (WGBH-2)

WGBX World is a digital channel, which can be received over-the-air by anyone with a digital TV in the Boston area. This channel is also carried on many local cable networks, including Comcast (channel 209) and Verizon (channel 873).

10 Responses to “Premiere of “Traces of the Trade” on PBS”

  1. Rox says:

    I actually dreamt about it last night. As we were getting ready for bed I asked Patrick if he had remembered to program the TiVo to record it. (He hadn’t and got up to do it :-). Then I dreamt about watching it, except I was there in the film. But being interviewed but watching the film from inside the film. Very strange.

  2. johnperna says:

    On the Concept of Reparations for the Enslavement of Ancestors

    by John Perna © 2000 Permission to republish once is granted

    Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, and other Black professionals, are now calling loudly for the payment of reparations to Blacks whose ancestors were slaves in America. These same Blacks, who claim that Whites owe them reparations, also claim that the ancient Egyptians were black.

    There is a problem here. The ancient Egyptians were among the biggest chattel slave-masters in history. The record of the enslavement of the Jews, by the ancient Egyptians, can be found in every version of the Holy Bible. Other people (and other races) may have also been enslaved by the Egyptians. All the Blacks who believe in the concept of reparations for the enslavement of ancestors are free, at any time, to begin making payments to the descendants of all those; whom other Blacks in history enslaved. Obviously fairness dictates that they could start, at least, by making payments to the Jews. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, will this idea still sound good to the Blacks who are clamoring for reparations?

    Slavery has been going on since man has existed. Slavery did not start in America. Everyone has ancestors who were slaves. There is plenty of slavery that is more recent than American slavery. Auschwitz makes the southern plantation look like a vacation resort.

    Let’s actually examine the Chairman Gates’ concept of reparations for the enslavement of ancestors. His contention that all White people owe all Black people is based on the concept that those who are of the SAME RACE, as the former slave masters; automatically owe money to all of those, who are of the SAME RACE as the former slaves. No notice is taken of the fact that those who allegedly owe the money were never slave masters themselves, nor of the fact that those to whom the money is allegedly owed have never themselves been slaves.

    There also seems to be a presumption that all of the slaves were black, and all of the slave-masters were white. Only a small percentage of whites, owned slaves (5% or less). In the official U.S. Census of 1830, there were 3775 free blacks who owned 12,740 black slaves. The first black slave owner was Anthony Johnson of Northampton, Virginia. His slave was John Casor.

    A landmark case in 1665 involving the Black slave owner Anthony Johnson resulted in the courts’ ruling that slaves were considered slaves for life. Thus, in 1665 all states adopted enslavement laws. It was the Black slave master, Anthony Johnson, who sued and won his case in a Virginia court that changed temporary servitude into lifetime servitude. Thus, this Black slave owner, in Virginia, established permanent slavery. If there were any validity to the theory that the descendants of slaves should be paid by the descendants of slave-masters; THEN descendants of Anthony Johnson would certainly owe the most.

    What it comes down to is this: Chairman Gates, and his reparations cohorts, are saying that a person is allegedly due money, or that a person allegedly owes money, SOLELY on the basis of his or her race.

    Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot AGAIN. Suppose that you are a Black man sleeping peacefully in your own home. Suddenly there is a knock at the door. It is the police, who inform you that you are under arrest, and that you are going to jail. Why? Because somewhere an unspecified, unidentified Black man has robbed a store.

    “But I am innocent!” you yell.

    “Yes, we know that, but you are Black, and a Black man robbed the store”

    The policeman answers. “We are arresting you for being Black.”

    Now, what is the next logical thing for you to say? Will you not immediately point out that it is an injustice for you to be punished for something that you did not do? Will you not loudly protest that it is racism to blame an entire race for the actions of a few? Of course that’s what you’ll say – and of course you’ll be right.

    Why are you only, JUST NOW, thinking of that?

    How will you deal with the fact that there were slave owners who were Black or American Indian? To all the Blacks who are clamoring for reparations from Whites: Are you willing to also call for the descendants of all Blacks who sold or kept slaves to chip in too? Are you willing to hit up the descendants of today’s Egyptians for your “fair share,” and to urge them to also pay reparations to the descendants of the Jews; whom they enslaved? How do you plan to compensate the descendants of the WHITE people, who came to this continent as slaves? (The euphemism for white slavery was indentured servitude). How will you deal with the fact that large numbers of whites are the descendants of people who came here after slavery was abolished? How will you deal with the fact that large numbers of blacks are the descendants of people who came here after slavery was abolished?

    And are you willing to ask those Blacks and Arabs who still sell and keep slaves in Africa, to this day, to immediately stop this practice, to free their slaves, and to pay them, and their descendants reparations?

    The big problem with collective guilt is that it punishes the innocent. We now hear that some of the descendents of the slave traders are supporting the idea of reparations. Tom DeWolf and Katrina Browne of the DeWolf family are examples. Are they offering to pay these reparations from their own family funds, or do the want someone else to pay? If there was any thought of justice in all of this, then the source of the reparations would be limited to nothing other than the assets that were inherited from slave traders and slave masters. In 1812, the DeWolfs owned more ships than the United States Navy. In 1837, former U.S. Senator James DeWolf died as the second richest man in America. Would the descendents of the slave traders and slave masters volunteer to exchange their financial portfolios for the financial portfolios of the descendents of the slaves? The descendents of the slave traders and of the slave masters might learn a lot from the conversations that they could have with the descendents of the slaves, while they wait together in the food stamp and welfare offices. Would it not be simple common sense that those who benefited from slavery should be the only ones to compensate those who were injured by slavery? Let’s see if we understand this correctly. The slave traders and of the slave masters benefited from slavery. The descendents of the slave traders now want to benefit again by making a film, or writing a book, condemning slave traders. No one is volunteering to make any sacrifice of there own assets to compensate those who were injured by slavery.

    We are told that “Islam” is not responsible for terrorism.

    Why are we told that “whitey” is responsible for slavery? I’m just trying to get the rules straight on this collective guilt phenomena. It is perplexing to hear who it is; who is exclaiming about how peaceful most Muslims are. That’s surely true, just as the vast majority of whites opposed slavery.

    In all civil claims, when it is found that an injury was done, the injured party would only be entitled to be compensated exactly to the extent to what they would have had, absent the injury. In this case, that would be the standard of living of the average African. Exactly what are the damages, that resulted from being subjected to growing up in America, instead of Africa?

    Of COURSE, if it was true that there was a valid claim for reparations, due to the enslavement of ancestors, that claim would be subject to corrections for value already received (welfare, subsidized housing, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, etc. etc. etc.) Anytime that a debt is over paid a refund is given.

    For more information on reparations visit:

    If there is anyone, who is willing to accept criminal penalties,

    and civil liabilities,

    on behalf of everyone who is of their same ethnic group,

    that person is invited to comment.

    Hurry right in.

    Please form a single line.

    No pushing!

  3. James says:

    A few responses, John, to the lengthy article you’ve posted here:

    I don’t believe that the argument that slavery, and other wrongs, were rampant throughout history should end any attempt to acknowledge or to address particular wrongs which reverberate in our society to this day. I feel the same way about the complications which history has passed down to us, such as: fact that Africans were deeply complicit in the slave trade; that blacks and Native Americans owned slaves; and that our ancestries today are profoundly tangled. I do believe, for what it’s worth, that all of these facts should steer us away from an approach to “repair” which attempts to weigh wrongs and to apportion compensation to individuals accordingly. Our focus needs to be on the present and on doing justice, as best we can.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we should oppose any attempt to assign responsibility or blame merely on the basis of race, or acknowledge any form of “collective guilt.” However, you fail to acknowledge the history, and present reality, of race in this country.

    Put simply, the benefits of slavery did not accrue only to slave owners and a few others, but were distributed across the nation to ordinary white citizens. Those benefits continued to mount over the generations, as well, and impacted the lives of later immigrants, as well. So to simply suggest that most whites in this country have not benefited from slavery runs contrary to the plain facts.

    Nor did the “vast majority of whites” oppose slavery, as you state. In fact, the vast majority of whites at the time supported slavery and the slave trade; many ordinary citizens benefited directly from engaging in business connected to those institutions, while all free citizens benefited substantially from the economic consequences.

    While I don’t support cash payments to the descendants of slaves, I do find disturbing your suggestion that black Americans may owe a “refund” on reparations, for having collectively received the same government benefits that white citizens have been entitled to (and have, in fact, received in much larger numbers).

    Finally, you ask:

    are you willing to ask those Blacks and Arabs who still sell and keep slaves in Africa, to this day, to immediately stop this practice, to free their slaves, and to pay them, and their descendants reparations?

    The answers are yes, yes, and no. I certainly support demands that slavery be ended around the world, and that includes, but is not limited to, modern-day African slavery. I also support reasonable compensation for freed slaves, for their suffering as a result of crimes committed against them. But I do not expect impoverished African nations to pay reparations to the descendants of deceased slaves, any more than I would expect the United States to do the same.

  4. Julie Fanselow says:

    James, I work for Everyday Democracy, a national organization that for 15 years has helped communities hold large-scale, inclusive, action-oriented dialogues on racial equity. I accidentally posted a comment about the film several threads down, but I do want you and your family to know that we appreciate the film and its role in advancing the national conversation about race, especially lesser-known aspects of our slave-holding past.

    Click my name for the EvDem website, where people can download free copies of our “Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation” discussion guide and its accompanying affinity group discussion guide – that is, for white people talking to other white people, as the film suggests we need to do.

  5. James says:

    Thanks so much for your comments, Julie. I’ve clicked through to the Everyday Democracy web site, and I hope that others will, too. I haven’t looked at the “Facing Racism” guide yet, since that requires taking a few minutes to register on the site, but I’m looking forward to doing that soon.

  6. Marisa Williams says:

    I learned about the film watching Bill Moyers Journal last week and thought it looked interesting, to say the least. I emailed all my friends and family about it. I don’t know how many watched it. I haven’t had a chance to ask anybody about it yet.

    Just wanted to say thank you to you and the members of your family who participated in the making of this piece and the process (and processing) that it required. I thought it was wonderful. A step in the right direction, to be sure. And an act that is to be commended. The DeWolf members who received letters and opted not to participate should all watch the film at the very least, I hope.

    We all have painful or unpleasant elements in our personal family histories. It’s nearly unavoidable, I should think. Whether we are the descendants of slave owners or slaves. Whether we are White, Black, Asian, or Other. There is pride and pain, but the point is that both are present and we must acknowledge these two sides of the coin. To be fair. To make progress. This is what your family has done with this film and I commend you for it.

    As a multiracial American of White, Jewish, African, and Native American descent I must personally acknowledge all sides and aspects of the coin because its who I am. Literally. I don’t have a choice, so to speak. Not if I’m an honest, open person with a sincere interest in knowing my history to better know myself.

    After seeing your film, I see more clearly that this is really true for all of us. No matter our roots. If Whites and Blacks and Asians and Native Americans want to better know who we are today, we must each reckon with who our ancestors were. Who they really were. This is or can be difficult, but I hope that you stand as an example to people who would prefer not to rock the boat to … rock the boat. It won’t capsize and even if it does, the water is warm and welcoming and we can all swim and flip the boat back over and continue on our way. If we’re afraid to get wet though, we’ll never get anywhere. Right?

    Congrats on a wonderful and personal piece. So glad you shared your story. It’s an important piece of American history. Or a story that belongs to all of us.

  7. Marisa Williams says:

    ^ Ack! Typo. Left out the “or” …

    “Whether we are the descendants of slave owners or slaves.”

    is what I meant to write :^)

    [Ed. note: I've corrected the original comment accordingly.]

  8. James says:

    Thank you so much for your generous comments, Marisa.

    I couldn’t agree more that we all need to understand our history in order to know ourselves and our society. Those who argue that this history is past, and that people should merely “get over it,” are simply unaware of how the legacy of the past affects us all, in both material and intangible ways.

    I think you’re quite honest for recognizing that your multi-racial and multi-ethnic background requires that you acknowledge the various sides in our troubled history. I would just add that I think our various stories are tangled enough that all of us, even those with relatively homogeneous family trees, have no choice but to confront the conflicting narratives of the past and weave them into a single, complex, nuanced history.

    This is truly our history, all of ours, and we should acknowledge it as such.

  9. Marisa Williams says:

    Our stories are tangled, indeed. I found, for example, the DeWolf-Jefferson connection to be fascinating. I’ve never been a fan of Thomas Jefferson, but discovering the way in which he directly facilitated the slave trade at a time when it was illegal – and he was outspoken in stating that slavery was immoral – was yet another nail in his coffin for me.

    That is another conundrum that each American has to – or should – come to peace with. Yes the “Founding Fathers” got this so-called great nation off the ground, but (in my humble opinion) we revere them far too highly as men of high morals and class; despite the sullied truth of the less than honorable ways and means that they achieved this feat. It is a farce of the highest order.

    When in Ghana, there was an African-American woman in the film who said “This was our holocaust.” She is right. Not many Americans of any color use these words to describe the Transatlantic [Slave] or Triangle Trade, but that is what it was. I feel like the international Jewish community has a kind of ownership of this word and its meaning and that somehow Blacks or any other group of people who’ve been subject to massive slaughter aren’t entitled to its use. I’ve seen figures of 6 to 11 million deaths for the Jewish Holocaust in 1940s Europe. Estimates for the total number of deaths spanning the Middle Passage, “seasoning” (i.e., breaking in/down a new slave arrived from Africa in the Americas), and an enslaved life of labor, suicide, revolt, or disease? It’s hard to say, but estimates range from 8 to 20 million.

    Sounds like quite the glaring example of a holocaust to me.

    Which is why I’ve never understood why the United States hasn’t taken a more apologetic and open approach to this fact. We carry on as though it never happened or wasn’t really all that bad. Or, even worse, we fail to acknowledge or make the connection between today’s problems in the Black American community and this sordid past.

    I would hope that once we’ve elected our first Black president, discussions of race will really open up. That will be interesting to watch. I have a fear that Barack will fall short in this respect and continue to be regarded as a sort of “elite” “exception” to the all of the classic stereotypes that define Blacks in this country. Yes he gave his race speech, but there hasn’t been much real discourse. You know? Barack pretty well steered clear of the Jena 6; he had to, if he wanted to secure White votes. Michelle Obama’s comment about “finally being proud” has been widely misunderstood. As have Reverend Wright’s speech excerpt: “God damn America.”

    The opportunity for real discussion and growth is here. And has been for some time. I’m just not overly faithful that enough people like you and I will take the opportunity to talk (and therein foster change and progress on a personal, community, and national level). It’s much easier to carry on as we are. The small number of DeWolf family respondents to Katrina’s letter is strong testimony to this sad fact.

  10. James says:

    Thanks so much for your comments, Marisa.

    I think Jefferson’s role in history illustrates well the complexity and moral ambiguity of all humankind.

    We have plenty of reasons to disapprove of Jefferson, including his refusal to free his own slaves and his willingness to indirectly support the Bristol slave trade with a political favor that he knew (or should have know) was designed to get around state laws.

    However, it’s also true that Jefferson wrote, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, that one of the “injuries and usurpations” committed by King George was the slave trade. He fought for decades to end the slave trade, and in fact he was the one who proposed, and signed into law, the abolition of the trade.

    Jefferson also wrote stirringly that enslaved Africans were human beings, entitled to the same rights and dignities, including freedom, as those of European descent.

    Was Jefferson’s refusal to free his slaves an endorsement of slavery? It seems highly unlikely. Rather, he seems to have been unwilling to bankrupt his wife and children by manumitting his slaves. Was this a grave moral sin? Or was it merely a serious human failing, in a time when few recognized how wrong slavery was, and even fewer had the courage to sacrifice their careers and families to do what was right?

    I don’t know how we judge Jefferson, but what I know of his contemporary, Senator James D’Wolf, suggests that they were not unusually evil men, but rather men of ordinary morality who failed to rise above their times.

    Was it truly a “farce of the highest order” that the founders of the nation did not simultaneously rise above the evils of slavery which then engulfed almost every other nation? My inclination is to acknowledge their failings and moral weaknesses, but not to set them so far apart from all others of their era.

    I think it’s hard to estimate the number of deaths from the transatlantic slave trade. Only 12-13%, or roughly 1.8 million, died during the Middle Passage. How many died prematurely after being purchased by their new “owners”? I’ve never seen a good estimate, but since only 10.7 million arrived in the New World, and the majority survived (in the U.S., the vast majority), figures of 8 or 20 million seem impossibly high to me. Of course, in a very real sense, almost no enslaved Africans — except those few who were freed or who arrived during the final few years of the trade — survived the experience.

    I’m not mystified, personally, as to why Americans aren’t collectively more willing to acknowledge openly this past, or its connections to today. Precisely because the history, and its legacy, are so horrifying, acknowledging these things would challenge deeply-held beliefs and profoundly unsettle those who are complacent. Admitting what Michelle Obama (or Jeremiah Wright) meant by their words, for instance, would therefore be too much of a challenge for many people.

    I suspect that a President Obama would, in fact, be seen as an elite exception by many Americans — and, at the same time, as proof that we have moved “beyond race” and that there is no longer any justification for “dwelling on the the past.”

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