The final session I attended today was a showing of the documentary Traces of the Trade, made by Katrina Brown. What an amazing film to show at a public history conference! Brown, who found out that her ancestors had been some of the major slave traders in the U.S., gathered some of her family members for a trip from Rhode Island to Ghana to Cuba, to trace the triangular trade. Particularly important was the way in which Brown demonstrated the economic basis of slavery. Abhorrent, evil, unspeakable, slavery 'made sense' in economic terms in that past time and could be connected to businesses ranging from distilling rum to textile manufacturing. For public historians what might have been the most striking moments were those at museums in Rhode Island and Ghana. In the former, Brown's ancestor's mansion had become a house museum which refused to let her film inside because she was raising the issue of slavery. As one of her relatives said, it's not like the town will change its sign to say "Welcome to Bristol, the Slave Trading Capital of the U.S." Conversely, in Ghana, the group tours the slave forts where captured slaves were held in cramped, dark, infested surroundings until they could be shipped to the Caribbean. The history of slavery is not only remembered there, but also dealt with, as show in a healing ceremony that the group, somewhat uncomfortably attends.
Traces of the Trade: http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/