Category: News and Announcements, Outreach, Public History Tags: Episcopal Church, James DeWolf, Providence, Rhode Island, Slave trade, Traces of the Trade
Today the New York Times is running an article on our partnership to create a Center for Reconciliation in the Episcopal cathedral in Providence, R.I.
The article, by Katharine Seelye, is headlined “Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role.” Seelye discusses our plans to offer a museum interpreting slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island, and the North, with emphasis on the historical complicity of the entire nation, including the Episcopal Church, in the institution of slavery. She also talks about our intent to offer programming and community activities aimed at educating the general public and fostering dialogue, healing, and reconciliation.
The article details how the DeWolf family’s efforts to illuminate their slave-trading past in Rhode Island, including Katrina Browne’s PBS documentary, “Traces of the Trade,” have helped to inspire the Episcopal Diocese to put forward the idea for the Center for Reconciliation.
The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely, the Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, is quoted in the article on the importance of acknowledging the ways in which the Church knowingly benefited from slavery, as well as eventually playing a role in abolition:
“We sounded an uncertain trumpet. We were happy to receive their financial support. We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the prejudice of the time and didn’t speak out.”
“I want my child to remember our family history, both good and bad. I think this is how we need to approach our shared history as a nation, too.”
One unfortunate issue is that those of us quoted in the article from the Center are all white men. As the bishop himself pointed out this morning, this framing is unfortunate, especially since this is not at all reflective of the reality of those actually involved in the Center’s work. However, I would also point out that this is not merely happenstance: there are still powerful, if often ignored, dynamics in our society which increase the odds that an Episcopal bishop, or a senior priest, or the representative of a partner organization, will be white and/or male. And there is nothing unusual about people of color, or women, not being equally represented among the most public faces, or in the senior leadership positions, in organizations in which they do a great deal of the work. This is a pattern which takes a great deal of intentionality to overcome, and this is a task upon which the Center for Reconciliation is only just embarking, but one which we take very seriously as we move forwards in our mission to educate and to help reconcile.