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From Columbus: Documentary reveals Episcopal Church role in slavery; reactions open dialogue

By Daphne Mack
[Episcopal News Service]  Complete silence prefaced applause and a standing ovation at the first screening in Columbus of a rough cut of "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North."

"It moved me to tears," Jay Phillippi from Province II said of the June 14 viewing. "To suddenly confront things that I had read about made it impossible not to weep for the men, women and children that were torn from Africa; for the damage to the souls and the spirits of the slavers; and most of all for the burden that remains on us and our country."

"Traces" is a feature documentary that tells the story of the DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in US history and also a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. James DeWolf Perry was the 18th Presiding Bishop.

In the film, Katrina Browne, a DeWolf descendant and producer and director of the documentary, narrated while cameras followed her and nine other family members. They retraced the route of the "Triangle Trade" in slaves, rum, sugar and other goods between Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba and back to Rhode Island. Browne and the other members of the family addressed complex issues of atonement and reconciliation during the journey. 

Excerpts from the film were first shown to the Executive Council during its March meeting in Philadelphia. During that meeting the council passed a resolution (NAC 045) urging the convention planners "to make every effort to show the film. . . to the entire convention."

An additional screening in the Convention’s worship space was held June 15 for bishop and deputies. 

"The film saddened and angered me but grief, I think, is probably the best word to describe what I felt," said Lynne Washington, visitor from the Diocese of Virginia. "I think that everyone coming to General Convention needs to, has to, see this film."

Browne said, she hopes "Traces" will "inspire people to have more conversations about particular white and black dynamics" and hopes that it will "specifically inspire white people, because I think we come in with dread, guilt, resentment or fear to those conversations."

"Like everyone else in the room, I think I was deeply moved and touched somewhere deeply in my own spirit and soul," Bishop Steven Charleston, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said. "But I had another reaction that I think was even more profound and that was the embodiment of hope, the possibility of healing, of reparations or renewal and a hope that will not be denied."
The third and final screening of "Traces" at Convention will be June 18, 6:30–8:30 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Delaware Ballroom. The current version is about 40 minutes. An opportunity for dialogue will follow.