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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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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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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The state of Maryland is currently considering a slavery-era disclosure law, similar to the one now pending in Massachusetts and previously adopted in several other states.

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Massachusetts state representative Byron Rushing has re-introduced his slavery-era disclosure law, “An Act Relative to the History of Slavery in the Commonwealth.”

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This fall, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities will sponsor a series of screenings of Traces of the Trade around the state.

The discussion series, “Traces of the Trade: Massachusetts and the Economy of Slavery,” commemorates the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade. Each event will feature a screening of the new, 55-minute discussion version of the documentary, along with historical materials and discussion of the film’s themes as well as the significance of slavery to the Massachusetts economy and to our society today. The series is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The screenings will take place as follows:

  • Sat., Oct. 4, 2008 – Sheffield Historical Society, Sheffield, Mass.
  • Tues., Oct. 7, 2008 – Old South Meeting House, Boston, Mass.
  • Sat., Oct. 18, 2008 – Alternatives Unlimited, Inc., Whitinsville, Mass.
  • Sat., Nov. 8, 2008 – The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Mass.
  • Thurs., Feb. 12, 2009 – New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Mass.