Fri 13 Feb, 2009
Tags: Black history month, History, James DeWolf, Racial inequality, Slave trade
On Monday, I gave a series of four lectures on slavery and race in New Bedford and Fall River, Mass.
Local newspaper stories about the talks have appeared in the Fall River Herald News (“Descendant of slave trader talks at BCC“) and in the New Bedford Standard-Times (“19th century tycoon’s descendants tell of North’s role in slavery“).
The talks were sponsored by Bristol Community College, as part of their Black History Month program, and arranged by Professor Marlene Pollock. Three of the lectures took place on college campuses in New Bedford and Fall River, while the fourth was held at the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford.
The themes of the lectures were ones that I frequently discuss on this site and in other public appearances.
I introduced the subject by outlining the role of my fifth-great grandfather, U.S. Senator James DeWolf of Bristol, R.I., as the nation’s leading slave trader, and I showed a few clips from the PBS documentary about the DeWolf family, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. The story of James DeWolf and his family leads naturally into a broader discussion of the largely forgotten role of the North in slavery and the slave trade.
In the New Bedford/Fall River area, memories of the early cotton textile industry are particularly strong, and awareness of the textile mills which dotted the area provided a solid foundation for discussing the importance of slavery in the industrialization of the early United States and in our subsequent economic development to the present day. From there, I brought my listeners into the present day with a conversation about the ways in which our history of slavery and racial discrimination still impacts our society today, and how we might finally begin to address that legacy.
Incidentally, the article in the Herald News was reprinted online at Wicked Local Fall River, with the unfortunately misleading headline, “Great-grandson of slave trader talks at BCC.”