"Traces of the Trade" program encourages conversations, listening, and action
Clergy and laypeople from around the diocese filled historic Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston on Tuesday for the first diocesan “Traces of the Trade” event and an opportunity to bring open minds and hearts to conversations about the legacy of slavery and racism.
Participants at Tuesday's session said they were glad they took part in the conversations, and encouraged others to attend the remaining programs being offered this week in Hilton Head Island, Conway, and North Charleston.
“This event sheds light, so that others can light their candles by it,” said Joe Frazier, Senior Warden of Calvary. “It’s a worthwhile opportunity for people to come and participate.”
Marlene O’Bryant-Seabrook, a retired educator and lecturer who attended the session, said events like “Traces” were a way of beginning to address the need for better education. “So much of the problem of communication between the races is due to a lack of knowledge,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to learn how each group is feeling – to lessen the gap.”
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg opened the gathering by recalling his first experience with Dain and Constance Perry, the couple who are visiting Charleston to facilitate the programs. The Bishop had invited the Perrys to East Tennessee several years ago, when he was bishop there. “That began a process that is ongoing, and we hope the same will be true here.”
Tuesday’s program consisted of a screening of the Emmy-nominated documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” followed by a time for people to share their own stories. Introducing the film, Dain Perry spoke of growing up in Charleston. He attended Porter-Gaud School. His father was rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston for 13 years; and his grandfather was James DeWolf Perry III, the 18th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, who died in Summerville in 1947.
The DeWolf family was the pre-eminent slave trading family in United States history, playing a role in bringing more than 10,000 enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. Mrs. Perry, meanwhile, introduced herself as a descendant of slaves from North Carolina and Virginia – states in which Dain Perry’s maternal ancestors once were slaveholders.
Mr. Perry told the audience that on June 16, the couple had just confirmed their plans to come to Charleston to facilitate the “Traces” program. The following day, June 17, the Emanuel AME shootings occurred.
“We were struck down to the depths of our hearts,” he said. Under the circumstances, he said they almost expected a call from the diocese asking to postpone the “Traces” program. But Bishop vonRosenberg’s response was different, Mr. Perry said: that the events at Emanuel made this kind of conversation more important and necessary than ever. “We were just awed by that,” he said.
Reflecting on the reaction to the tragedy by the people of Mother Emanuel and the people of Charleston, he said, “I haven’t ever been more proud of Charleston. You all did a remarkable job, and you’re continuing to do a remarkable job. You are bringing the gospel right to where the gospel needs to work the hardest.”
Events like the four “Traces” programs being offered by the diocese are not about blame or guilt, he said. “It’s about getting a better understanding of how we’ve gotten so terribly stuck where we are today, so we can begin healing.”
The film traced the journey of 10 of the DeWolf family descendants, including Dain Perry, as they uncovered the family’s historic involvement with the slave trade that bought and sold human beings, sugar, rum and ships in a triangular route from Rhode Island to Ghana in West Africa, to Cuba, and back to New England.
After watching the documentary, people gave one-word descriptions of their feelings. Some of the words they used were: understanding and respect, sadness, shame, guilt and sorrow; hopefulness and gratitude; desire for action; impatience for change and healing; despair and hope, disappointment, and urgency. They elaborated on these words by sharing some of their personal stories and experiences with racism.
Conversations like these are “a very holy time, a time of handing over these feelings to God,” Constance Perry said. And they are not times for debate, but a time to speak and listen with open hearts.
The conversations will continue at the next three events. Pre-registrations are encouraged, but walk-in registration is also welcome.
Wednesday, September 16 at 5:30 pm at All Saints Episcopal Church, Hilton Head Island.
Thursday, September 17 at 6:00 p.m. at Coastal Carolina University in Room 308 of the Wall College of Business Administration Building, hosted by St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Conway.
Saturday, September 19 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1150 E. Montague Ave., North Charleston
Register online here, or call the Diocesan Office, (843) 259-2016.
In the news
Traces of the Trade:
A Story from the Deep North
Emmy-nominated film and discussion program offered across the diocese in September 2015
Publicize these events in your church: Download and print the flier here.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is offering four opportunities to engage in an important and timely film and discussion program for clergy, lay leaders and members of the public to explore issues of race, discrimination and the legacy of slavery.
From September 15-19, the diocese will offer screenings of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, a documentary about the DeWolf family of Rhode Island and its involvement in the slave trade. Each screening will be followed by discussions facilitated by Dain and Constance Perry, a couple who have ties both to South Carolina and to the Rhode Island family featured in the film.
Anti-racism training is a requirement in The Episcopal Church for clergy and lay leaders, and is encouraged for everyone. The Traces of the Trade program is recognized and endorsed by the Church as a step toward fulfilling this requirement.
Our diocese has recognized the need for an opportunity such as this program offers for some time. However, the events that took place in Charleston on June 17 at Mother Emanuel AME, and in the weeks that have followed, made it even more clear that we need these opportunities for reflection and engagement on the difficult subject of race.
The mission of Traces of the Trade is to educate people about the history and legacy of race and other forms of discrimination, in order to change hearts and minds, foster dialogue, and encourage healing and justice. More information about the movie can be found here: http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/
Dain Perry, a graduate of Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, appears throughout the film as one of the ten DeWolf descendants. His wife, Constance, is a descendant of slaves. The Episcopal Church has especially commended the film and the Perrys’ work as a way to respond to Resolution 2009-A143, which calls on parishes and dioceses to explore their historic ties to slavery and the lasting effects of the slave trade.
Each of the four sessions in South Carolina will consist of a viewing of the movie followed by a facilitated conversation. The length of these conversations may vary, but participants should allow for at least 3 hours to watch the film and engage in the discussions.
Tuesday, September 15 at 1:00 p.m. at Calvary Episcopal Church, Charleston
Wednesday, September 16 at 5:30 pm (dinner served at 5:00) at All Saints Episcopal Church, Hilton Head Island
Thursday, September 17 at 6:00 p.m., in Conway at Coastal Carolina University, Room 308 of the Wall College of Business Administration Building. Hosted by St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Conway
Saturday, September 19 at 1:00 pm at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, North Charleston
Registration for this training is now open to all in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Seating is limited and early registration is strongly encouraged, particularly for those who will be attending as part of required anti-racism training in the diocese. Register online here.
Photos from the "Traces of the Trade" program
at Calvary, Charleston on September 15, 2016:
Find biographical information about the program presenters,
Constance and Dain Perry, here.
The following are some of the comments the Perrys have received after screenings of Traces of the Trade:
• “By creating an atmosphere of safety and openness, the Perrys cut through the fears (of judgment, of giving offense, of being misunderstood) that often inhibit discussions of race.”
• “Dain and Constance brought the discourse to a gut level, while at the same time affirming everyone’s reactions as perfectly and equally valid.”
• “Many people came with fear that we were just going to stir up guilt and deal with this issue on a superficial level and discovered that it moved the conversation deeper and helped people get in touch with each other’s stories and became a healing, liberating experience.”
• “Programs like yesterday’s give me hope that the racial divide will lessen.”
• “In an environment free of blame and shame, those in attendance deeply listened and honored the experience of others and that produced subtle but remarkable shifts in awareness of the pain experienced by people on both sides of the racial divide.”
• “When I got up and talked about my experience with racism it really helped. I had never talked about the situation with anyone, not even my family.”
• “The film was wonderful and I so respect the participants’ courage and honesty. I’ve received very positive feedback about both the film and your facilitation.”
• “The folks…talked about how important the screenings of the film were for them, and how that changed hearts in the way that traditional “training” could not. What a blessing.”
• “The way you got us focused on talking about racism in our country in today’s world rather than comments and questions on the events from the past was brilliant, for, after all, that is the point of what you are doing.”
• “I was particularly struck by how skillfully you helped create a safe space for people to speak. I also noticed how you keep conversation going, while still taking moments to insert your own observations from time to time, but without derailing the energy within the group.”
• “Leadership like yours gives people permission to be honest, to risk vulnerability, to venture less-than-perfect responses …”
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