“Quick Takes” features brief summaries of recent news, opinion, and research related to race, privilege, and inequality, with a special focus on the history and legacy of slavery and race, which are at the heart of The Living Consequences.

Today’s “Quick Takes” includes items on remembering the Civil War, immigration laws in Arizona and New York, voting by felons, single black women, college debt and U.S. poverty.

Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to comment at the end of the post.

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One of our toughest challenges in presenting Traces of the Trade is to help audiences acknowledge the often-hidden complicity in slavery, not merely of our slave-trading family, but of all of New England (and, indeed, the entire nation).

Tonight, I’m attending a screening and discussion of the documentary in Concord, Massachusetts, hosted by the Drinking Gourd Project and featuring Dain and Constance Perry, from the film, and Jayne Gordon, director of education and public programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

See if you can spot anything problematic in the press release for the event:

The Drinking Gourd Project will present a screening and discussion of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. … A discussion with DeWolfe family members will follow the film.

Historian Jayne Gordon will link the film to local history – discussing the life stories and struggle for freedom of early African residents of Concord, as well as the town’s leadership in the Abolitionist movement.

That’s right: they’re planning to discuss a film about the hidden complicity of New England in slavery, and about the difficulty many white people have in acknowledging that history, by talking about how their own New England town featured free blacks and abolitionists.

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On tonight’s episode of “The Simpsons,” Lisa Simpson explores her family’s historical connection to slavery and presents the results at school for Black History Month.

This was fascinating for me to watch, as my own family’s powerful connection to slavery has taken up much of my time and energy over the last decade. Being a direct descendant of the leading slave trader in U.S. history, I think I can also relate to Lisa’s worry that her family tree sometimes seems dominated by scoundrels.

Disappointingly, however, this episode perpetuates some of the most common stereotypes that dominate public perceptions about the connections of American families to the nation’s history of slavery. For, immediately after learning that the Simpson family had a connection to slavery, we hear that this story involves Simpson ancestors living in the South, and that they were, in fact, anti-slavery and risked everything they had to take part in the Underground Railroad.

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Slavery in New England was brutal and lasted, in its official form, for 150 years. Enslavement greatly enriched the colonists and, later, citizens of New England, and only died out gradually and fitfully.

This is the proposition of an op-ed appearing in tomorrow’s Boston Globe, entitled “New England’s scarlet ‘S’ for slavery,” in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The op-ed suggests that the northern states lag behind the South in acknowledging the difficult truths of race buried in our past, and that we cannot skip this step if we are to make progress on race relations.

The essay is written by C. S. Manegold, who is the author of Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (2009), published last month by Princeton University Press.

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As I previewed last month, the Massachusetts state legislature held a hearing yesterday on state representative Byron Rushing’s proposed slavery-era disclosure law.

Update: Governor Deval Patrick has commented that while he hasn’t read the bill, he agrees that “we have some unfinished work about some injustices that goes back generations.”

H 3148 would make Massachusetts the fifth state to enact a law intended to pry open corporate records on their involvement in slavery and the slave trade. As I’ve indicated in the blog posts I’ve linked to above, I think these laws offer significant benefits in addressing our nation’s pervasive amnesia regarding the centrality of slavery to our history and its relevance to our present circumstances.

The extent of the nation’s historical amnesia over slavery, particularly in the northern states, is strikingly illustrated by yesterday’s Associated Press story in advance of the hearing.

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Tonight, the 30th annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards were presented by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in a ceremony at New York’s Lincoln Center.

As an historical consultant on the PBS documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, I was nominated, along with my fellow researchers, for an Emmy for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research.”

While we didn’t win, it was truly an honor just to be nominated, and I congratulate Salimah El-Amin and Blair Foster of HBO’s Taxi to the Dark Side for their accomplishment. Their film examines how the U.S. has treated detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on compelling research into the apprehension of an innocent taxi driver by U.S. forces and the circumstances leading to his eventual death at Bagram Airfield.

We are quite pleased that our nomination has helped to raise the visibility of Traces of the Trade, and has highlighted the importance of its historical subject matter.

Our research revealed for the first time that James D’Wolf was the leading slave-trader in U.S. history, and that his family were collectively the leading slave-trading family in our history. The D’Wolf family carried out at least 96 slaving voyages, bringing some 11,455 enslaved Africans to the Americas.

By my calculations, there may be more than 500,000 people alive today who are descended from those brought across the Middle Passage on D’Wolf slave ships.

The film raised much broader issues than our family’s history, however. This family’s involvement in the slave trade in many ways represents, in miniature, the American slave-trading experience. Our research into the family’s history has shed new light on the ways in which American slave traders operated, and the deep connections between their economic activities and the rest of American society. The research summarized in the film heightens our understanding of the role of the north in slavery and the slave trade, and emphasizes the centrality of slavery in American history. These are themes which I am exploring in more detail, and which I will begin presenting at the African Studies Association conference in New Orleans this fall.

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Earlier this year, I wrote about Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing’s proposed slavery-era disclosure law. At that time, I indicated that Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development should hold a public hearing later in the year.

The committee has now scheduled a public hearing for Monday, October 5 at 1:00pm at which testimony will be heard on Rushing’s bill, H 3148. The hearing will be held at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

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James Baldwin

Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it.

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1965, the great American writer James Baldwin penned an essay for Ebony magazine entitled “White Man’s Guilt.”

Baldwin’s words are rooted in the struggles of a time different from our own, but he offers timeless reflections on history, memory, and inherited responsibility. His essay also resonates with our own era because it concerns the same history, the same racial inheritance, with which we struggle today as we seek to come closer to healing the racial divisions of his society and ours.

Here is an extended quotation from Baldwin’s essay, which brilliantly deconstructs a response from Americans to their own history which, unfortunately, is still all too common:

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Yesterday, I wrote about the slavery apology passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives and, because it was a breaking story, had to settle for linking to the A.P. wire story on the site of the Hartford Courant.

This morning, the Courant has its own story about the vote, which begins:

More than 200 years after the fact, the state House of Representatives voted Thursday to formally apologize for slavery in Connecticut.

I think this opening line powerfully illustrates the importance of finally, and fully, acknowledging our society’s sordid history around slavery and race.

Just what does the reporter believe happened in Connecticut more than 200 years ago?

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Historical amnesia about slavery and race takes very different forms in the northern and southern United States.

This week, that reality is demonstrated by a critical look at public history in Charleston, South Carolina.

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