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All The Light We Cannot See
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Author Stuff, Writing
Coming to the Table
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Inheriting the Trade
Race, Oppression, Privilege
Traces of the Trade
Trauma and Healing
Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!
One of the pleasures of traveling about the United States to speak with people about Inheriting the Trade is, well, the people. On the one hand I’ve met several new relatives that I’ve never heard of before (4th, 6th, 9th cousins and the list goes on). On the other hand I’m meeting people with a strong interest in history and in addressing the legacy of slavery. In both cases I’m learning more about history, Cuba, Ghana, the United States, and the DeWolf family in particular than I learned while participating in our family journey or in my research to write my book.
For example, when my cousin James Perry and I attended a symposium on the 200th anniversary of the end of the U.S. slave trade at Boston University in April, I met George Fullerton. George and I had a bite to eat together prior to the start of the symposium where he showed me a newspaper he brought along–The Charleston Courier–from July 1807. In it is an advertisement for the sale of one hundred and six Prime Windward Coast Slaves by a company I recognized immediately: Christian & D’Wolf. It was haunting to see this hard evidence of my distant relative’s involvement in the slave trade just six months prior to its being outlawed in this country.
George later told me about a conversation he had with a friend of his about the intersection of the DeWolf and Hopper families. In my book I mention William DeWolf Hopper. He played Paul Drake on the Perry Mason television series and is a distant relative. His grandmother was Rosalie DeWolf Hopper; granddaughter of U.S. Senator James DeWolf, the most successful slave-trader in the family.
Here’s what I didn’t know. Rosalie’s husband was John Hopper, the son of Isaac T. Hopper. Isaac Hopper was once the treasurer of the American Anti-Slavery Society. As a teen–and a Quaker–he worked in the Underground Railroad in the late 1700s. Isaac, according to George, was one of the most respected men within the anti-slavery movement. His son John was also an active abolitionist whose brother married the daughter of James and Lucretia Mott. So what’s John Hopper doing marrying into the DeWolf family back then is the first question that pops into my mind.
George sent me a copy of the book Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life, written by Lydia Maria Child (published in 1853), who lived with the Hoppers while she was in New York editing the National Slavery Standard. I look forward to reading it and learning more about the Hoppers, the Underground Railroad and the abolition movement.
The web is exceedingly complex and the journey continues…
Because we–as a nation and as people–haven’t come to terms with all the intricacies of the legacy of slavery and how it continues to impact all of us–black, white, and everyone else–this particular elephant continues to lumber about in our living room.
My friend Jennifer Carr–national outreach director for Traces of the Trade, and a woman of color–passed along an article written by Ron Rosenbaum–author and columnist for the New York Observer and Slate, and a white guy–titled In Praise of Liberal Guilt: It’s not wrong to favor Obama because of race.
In it, he writes, “There are, of course, many reasons why whites might support Obama that have nothing to do with race. But what if redeeming our shameful racial past is one factor for some? Why delegitimize sincere excitement that his nomination and potential election would represent a historic civil rights landmark: making an abstract right a reality at last. Instead, their feeling must be disparaged as merely the result of a somehow shameful ‘liberal guilt.’”
And, “Guilt is good, people! The only people who don’t suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers. Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have-in the case of America’s history of racism-historical awareness. Just because things have gotten better in the present doesn’t mean we can erase racism from our past or ignore its enduring legacy.”
Plus, “Of course, it’s not enough just to feel guilty or to act on guilt alone. But guilt can often spur us to deal with the enduring consequences of the injustices of the past and force us not to pretend there are none.”
I hope these quotes are enough to inspire you to read the whole column. Rosenbaum pokes the elephant with a stick hard enough to make us think more deeply about this stuff. I’m not saying he’s right and I’m not saying he’s wrong.
As usual, issues involving race aren’t simply black or white.
The interview that Tom DeWolf and Katrina Browne recorded for the book segment of The Early Show on CBS has now been scheduled to run on June 19.
Read all about it at my cousin James DeWolf Perry’s blog: Impertinent Questions.
Mark Twain defined a classic as a book “which people praise and don’t read.”
I just finished the Greg Mortenson/David Oliver Relin classic Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time. I’m sure most people have heard of it by now. It has become a New York Times bestseller and I see it prominently displayed in almost every bookstore I walk into. I hope that most people who have heard of it will also read it.
One question asked of members of our family after watching Traces of the Trade or reading Inheriting the Trade is, “What can we do that will make a difference?” Greg Mortenson’s example helps all of us answer this question. Read the rest of this entry »
I just found out that Oregon Public Broadcasting will run Traces of the Trade on Sunday, June 29, at 10:30pm (rather than Tuesday, June 24, at 10:00pm, which is the typical time in many markets for the P.O.V. season premiere).
My understanding is that since P.O.V. documentaries are not produced by PBS, local stations don’t necessarily broadcast them at the same time across the nation (hence the caveat: check local listings).
YOU can help!
You can contact your local PBS station and find out when they plan to air Traces of the Trade and then you can spread the word in your community (e-mails, blogs, calling your local media). If you don’t know how to contact your local PBS affiliate, PBS provides a Station Finder on their website to help you out.
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide in spreading the word…
When I ran across this story today I was filled with both pain and hope. Christiane Amanpour, the international correspondent for CNN, interviewed Iphigenia Mukantabana, a woman whose husband and five children were slaughtered during the 100-day genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Amanpour also interviewed Jean-Bosco Bizimana, a neighbor who participated in the killing of Mukantabana’s family, a man she has forgiven and now shares meals with; whose wife she weaves “peace baskets” with.
Amanpour also interviewed Rwandan President Paul Kagame about how the country has focused on healing instead of revenge, on what unites them as Rwandans rather than what separates them as Hutus and Tutsis. I encourage you to watch the interviews. All three together take less than ten minutes.
I read this article and watched the interviews with a mixture of awe and perplexity. How can this woman forgive such horror? How could this man have participated in it? I have many questions. As I set them aside and simply watch her, I’m inspired by the grace of Iphigenia Mukantabana.
You can either read the story below or click on the title to go to the CNN site and read it there.
By Christiane Amanpour
GITARAMA, Rwanda (CNN) — What does Macy’s have to do with healing from genocide? Nothing and everything.
Fourteen years after Hutu extremists killed between 800,000 and 1 million people — mostly Tutsis — in a devastating slaughter, Rwandan women are weaving peace baskets for sale at Macy’s in the United States. Not only does the work bring them a regular salary but the business is also fostering reconciliation between victim and perpetrator. Read the rest of this entry »
Way back when there were eight or ten candidates for both the Republican and Democratic nominations for president I ran across an on-line quiz. I answered ten multiple-choice questions. The website then compared my answers to the positions of all candidates from both parties to let me know who most closely held the same views as I do. My number one candidate was Dennis Kucinich. Tied for last among the Dems were Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
I divulge that bit of information so that readers will understand that what follows does not come from a place of unwavering support for Obama over Clinton (I’m troubled, for instance, by his comments regarding potentially invading Pakistan, and by the potential ineffectiveness and inefficiency of his proposal on health care, among other things). What I write today I write to highlight how–even though significant progress has been made over the past four decades in overcoming racism in public discourse–race continues to be used as a tool to gain political advantage. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, May 8, the article “Coming to the Table on Race Relations” appeared on page 13 of the “Hampton Roads” section in The Virginia-Pilot, a daily newspaper based in Norfolk, Virginia that serves southeastern Virginia, Virginia’s Eastern shore, and northeastern North Carolina, all part of the Hampton Roads community. It is the largest daily metro paper in the state of Virginia.
The authors of the article, Phoebe Kilby and Will Hairston, are part of Coming to the Table, a group comprising descendants of slave owners, slave traders, and the enslaved. We first gathered as a group in January 2006 at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia for a weekend retreat to consider our unique connection to the institution of slavery and the ways in which we can overcome its legacy that continues to impact all of us today and work toward healing and reconciliation
I wasn’t able to link to the article directly at the Virginian-Pilot site. I’m grateful to fellow Coming to the Table participant, Art Carter, for providing this link to the article at Black Enterprise.
Katrina Browne, Holly Fulton & Bill Peebles, Dain & Constance Perry, Juanita Brown, James Perry, and I (along with Traces of the Trade film and outreach staffers Sara Archambault, Michelle Materre, and Jennifer Carr, and film production team members Jude Ray and Catherine Benedict) spent the past two days at a gathering of thousands of people connected with one of the most influential segments of American society: philanthropic foundations (The Council on Foundations Philanthropy Summit; May 4-7)
Traces of the Trade was featured by Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media in a reception, screening, and panel discussion on Tuesday evening, May 6. More than 400 people attended the event at the newly opened Newseum in Washington, DC. After a long day at the conference (I attended an all-day mini-summit regarding the role of media in advancing the mission of philanthropy), I was impressed that most people stayed until the panel discussion ended at 10:30pm.
The panel discussion was moderated by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent and 2008 political editor for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Panelists included Dr. J. Bryan Hehir, Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at the Kennedy School at Harvard, James A. Joseph, former Ambassador to South Africa, and professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies at the South Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke University, Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of Law at Boalt Hall (Berkeley Law, University of California), and Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda.
This distinguished panel discussed the major themes in Traces of the Trade and how they connect to the world of philanthropy. How can foundations effectively facilitate discussions on race, the legacy of slavery, and the need for healing? What are the challenges in facilitating such discussions? When government lacks capacity–or will–to lead the way in creating a more just world, how can we best encourage grass roots leadership in undoing racism and other forms of oppression. For one attendee’s perspective on the panel discussion, check out this post by Peter Deitz on the Social Actions Blog.
The panel discussion was filmed. My belief is that it will soon be available online for viewing. As soon as I can find a link to it I’ll make it available on my website. My hope is that many more people in the philanthropic community will watch it and find ways to support the work of creating “a more perfect union” by addressing directly the issue of race and how it continues to divide us in America.
On Wednesday morning Katrina and I were part of a panel facilitated by Alice Myatt, Managing Director of Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media. The title of the workshop was “Race, Class, and Privilege: An On-going Dialogue.” We were joined by Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., professor of Political Science at UCLA, and Paula Dressell, former director of Planning, Research, and Development with the Annie E. Casey Foundation who spoke of Casey’s Race Matters initiative. Check out the Race Matters Toolkit here, which is designed to help organizations address unequal opportunities by race and provides simple, results-oriented steps to help them succeed. I’m not certain if this session was taped, but if I find that it is I’ll provide a link to it as well.
I left the conference enthused about the possibilities if philanthropists take seriously their potential leadership role in undoing racism.
Filmmaker Katrina Browne participated in the press conference in Newport, Rhode Island this past Wednesday (April 30) when it was announced that Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North will be featured in the 2008 Newport International Film Festival June 3-8.
In partnership with the film festival, author Thomas Norman DeWolf will appear at the historic Redwood Library on June 4 at 11:00am for a reading and discussion of his memoir Inheriting The Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. The book will be available for purchase and Tom will autograph copies after the discussion for all who are interested.