My cousin Katrina Browne (producer/director of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North) and I were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this past week (Thursday, April 24) as part of the National Constitution Center’s year-long “Legacy of 1808” series of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United States.
Katrina grew up in Philadelphia just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell. She’s often said that this fact has contributed to her strong belief in democracy and her interest in holding our nation accountable for living up to the ideals set out in our founding documents. I know it is one of the factors that led her to make Traces of the Trade.
It was indeed a powerful experience to be on the same stage where, just weeks earlier, Senator Barack Obama gave his powerful speech–A More Perfect Union–calling for a national conversation on race in America.
Between our interview and the evening’s program I caught a glimpse of the influence these few square blocks of Philadelphia have had on my cousin Katrina. I spent the afternoon touring “Baseball as America” and the rest of the Constitution Center exhibits. I stood for the longest time in front of Jackie Robinson’s jersey from 1956, his last year with the Brooklyn Dodgers (I grew up in Southern California and one of the reasons I’ve always been proud to be a Dodger fan is because they hired Jackie to play and to integrate baseball). I listened to parts of speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King and Shirley Chisholm (when she said in the early 1970’s that she finally felt like one of “we the people”).
I asked myself repeatedly, “Why?” Why did it take until 1947 for a Jackie Robinson to play baseball in the National League? Why did it take a century after the end of the Civil War for a Martin Luther King to stand next to President Johnson as he signed legislation finally giving African Americans their civil rights? Why did it take until 1972 for a Shirley Chisholm to become the first African American major party candidate for president?
Two sold out screenings Thursday evening comprised the Philadelphia premiere of Traces of the Trade. It was good to see Jude Ray (co-director and executive producer of the film) and her family there. Philly is also Jude’s hometown. Katrina and I participated in a brief Q&A on stage after each screening and much longer conversations with people in the lobby adjacent to the theatre. It was a powerful day in all respects.
I want to put in a plug for Joseph Fox Bookshop, the local bookseller who graciously made Inheriting The Trade available for anyone who wanted a copy. And mostly I want to acknowledge (and thank!) Stefan Frank, Robin Morris, Jane Eisner and the rest of the committed staff at the National Constitution Center for all their good work. It is places like the Constitution Center that help remind us of the promise of America as well as the work that remains for us to help our nation keep that promise.