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Traces of the Trade Synopsis

“Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North” is a feature documentary film that tells the extraordinary story of first-time filmmaker Katrina Browne's New England ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.


Two hundred family descendents were invited to join Browne in tracing her family’s deeply disturbing hidden legacy; nine signed on.


The family travels from Bristol, Rhode Island, where the family business, trading humans, was based, to slave forts in Ghana where they meet with African-Americans on their own homecoming pilgrimages, to the ruins of a family-owned sugar plantation in Cuba. At each stop, the family grapples with the contemporary legacy of slavery, not only for black Americans, but also for themselves as white Americans.


This past portrait is fascinating, but it is their negotiations and encounters with the minefield of racial politics that prompts the film's real questions. Browne pushes them forward as they delve into the reparations debate. They also confront their love/hate relationship with Yankee culture and privilege and struggle with how to take public action given all that they have learned in their travels.


The issues confronted by the DeWolf descendants dramatize questions for the nation: what, concretely, is the legacy of slavery for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation of racial injustice in this country? What would repair – spiritual and material – really look like, and what would it take?


"Traces of the Trade" was completed in June 2007 and is being released in 2008 as part of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Abolition of the Slave Trade.


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