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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment September 26, 2017

1/29/2008 12:47:00 PM
Author confronts slave trade heritage
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Tom DeWolf loves history, and he loves his country. He thrilled to walking around Washington, D.C., imagining that he might be treading in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson. Pondering the greatness of the men who founded America filled him with pride.

But DeWolf was destined to take a walk through the darker corners of American history.

Tom DeWolf is a distant descendent of James DeWolf, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, who died the second-richest man in America in 1837. He made his fortune in the slave trade.

DeWolf, along with eight relatives, participated in a journey launched by his cousin Katrina Browne to trace the heritage of the slave trade, a journey that was to become a film documentary titled "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North."

His own account of his physical, moral and emotional journey was recently published by Beacon Press. DeWolf will discuss "Inheriting the Trade," at Paulina Springs Books, in Sisters, on Tuesday, February 5, at 6 p.m.

The full weight of DeWolf's heritage hit him in a "counting room" in the African nation of Ghana, a room where human chattel were stored while James DeWolf made deals in the room above.

DeWolf realized that his picture of the founding of America was incomplete, distorted.

"These guys (slave traders) were founders of our country, too," he realized. "And the feeling was so far from pride. It was shame and horror."

DeWolf recognized that for many blacks, it is not possible to "get over" the fact of American slavery, because the wounds have not healed; they are not clean.

He concluded that America still owes a debt to the descendants of slaves, which could include some for of reparations for those "stuck at the bottom."

"For me it's not an issue of historical guilt," DeWolf said. "It's an issue of current responsibility. It's not about repairing material circumstances; it's about healing relationships."

DeWolf's stop in Sisters is part of a national book tour, a continuing journey toward healing the uncleaned wounds of the American soul.

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