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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If you’ve watched our documentary, Traces of the Trade, then you’ve seen that one of the DeWolf slave-trade descendants in the film is Dain Perry.

Of the ten of us who took the journey shown in the film, Dain and I were usually closely in sync on issues involving race, much more so than either of us was with anyone else. This is particularly surprising because, although Dain is my uncle, as he explains in the film, he grew up surrounded by intense racism in the Jim Crow South, while I was raised in a progressive, racially mixed environment many years later.

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Yesterday, the blogosphere erupted in a firestorm of controversy over remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2008 that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was “light-skinned” and spoke “with no Negro dialect.”

This is the second time in recent weeks that Senator Reid has found himself in hot water over issues relating to slavery and race. Last month, Reid drew controversy for comparing Republican opponents of health care reform to those who resisted abolishing slavery.

This time, he is facing calls from Republicans to step down as majority leader because of ill-considered remarks about the leader of his own party.

Reid’s comments were revealed in a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign, entitled Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Pain, and the Race of a Lifetime, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. In the book, the authors say that while Reid was officially neutral in the primary fight between Obama and then-Senator Hillary Clinton, in private he was “unequivocal” in his encouragement of Obama:

He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama’s race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

This passage from the book appears to have been reported first by The Atlantic on Friday, and Senator Reid apologized for his choice of words on Saturday.

What, exactly, is this controversy about?

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Katrina Browne accepting BIFF awardTraces of the Trade has won the best documentary award at the Bahamas International Film Festival in Nassau.

Katrina Browne, the film’s director and producer (pictured), was on hand last night to accept the honor, the “Spirit of Freedom: Documentary Award.”

Also winning awards at the festival were three dramatic films (in the categories of short film, narrative, and “new vision”) and three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (winning the festival’s career achievement award). The festival featured 68 films from 26 different nations.

In 1800, the sloop Fanny, owned by James D’Wolf of the United States, arrived in the Bahamas with a cargo of 54 slaves purchased in Africa. He was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

I think it is only fitting that, more than two centuries later, a descendant of the D’Wolfs came to the Bahamas to screen a documentary in which several of us acknowledge the sins of our forefathers and strive to address their legacy today.

Katrina Browne is interviewed today on NPR’s “Tell Me More” about the recent passage of a Senate apology for slavery.

The interview, conducted by Michel Martin, can be heard online here.

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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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I’d like to use this post to acknowledge Holly Fulton, one of the ten DeWolf descendants featured in Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, and her husband, Bill Peebles.

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The reason it’s been quiet here for the last couple of days is that I’ve been in Albuquerque, N.M. to speak at an interdisciplinary conference on cultural studies in the humanities and social sciences.

The conference featured two evening screenings of Traces of the Trade for attendees, and I spoke at two panel sessions about the use of film as a popular medium and as a pedagogical tool for exploring under-appreciated history and contemporary social issues.

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There’s a thoughtful review of Traces of the Trade up at the critical blog Harlem Writer.

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Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North will be re-broadcast in the Boston area on Sunday, February 1 at 9:00pm on WGBX (known locally as PBS channel 44).

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