Watch Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North on PBS’s P.O.V. (Tues, June 24 at 10 PM – local times may vary)
After watching a screener for the documentary Traces of the Trade, I recommend watching it when it is broadcasted next week. Here’s an excerpt from the synopsis on the film’s website:
Katrina Browne tells the story of her forefathers, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Given the myth that the South is solely responsible for slavery, viewers will be surprised to learn that Browne’s ancestors were Northerners. The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England’s hidden enterprise.
The film does a good job of uncovering the slave trade of one individual family, the economic benefits white communities in the North reaped from slavery, and the ways in which regular people in the North (and South) remained (intentionally?) ignorant of the ways their economic actions affected African slaves who remained out of sight. Taking this broader view of the slave trade raises questions about how we in the developed world live our lives today , knowing that so much of the labor that keeps us comfortable comes at the expense of underpaid workers in other countries.
However, there is a scene about halfway through the film when one of the family members notes that making the film runs the danger of being a “self-indulgent [way to] assuage our sense of guilt and shame.” By keeping the focus on one family, the film does indeed seem to go in this direction at times, but the family narrative also holds the film together.
The documentary ends with a discussion about ways to move forward and includes interviews with a number of people of varying points of view.
Traces of the Trade is an important film to see in order to put the common North/South myths about slavery in a new light. It’s showing at 10 PM Tuesday night (June 24) on PBS’s P.O.V.