Meeting David Wilson
April 10, 2008 6:40 PM   Subscribe

David A. Wilson, descendant of slaves, traced his family tree back to North Carolina, where he met David B. Wilson, descendant of the slave owners. "Meeting David Wilson" is the documentary that resulted.

For those who own a television, a slightly edited version premieres tomorrow night on MSNBC.
posted by Pater Aletheias (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
That joint interview was a good read. Both are pretty open about how they feel. David B. doesn't seem on the defensive at all which makes it worthwhile.
posted by spaltavian at 7:04 PM on April 10, 2008


That statement in the youtube trailer of his - "do you realize that you might not be here if it weren't for that period in history?" - is such bullshit. I hope someone thought to present him at some point with the question, "do you realize that if it weren't for that point in history [that is, the colonization of Africa by European powers] I might rather be in Africa than here right now?"
posted by invitapriore at 7:26 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I saw a great documentary film at Sundance, called "Traces Of The Trade". This film chronicled the efforts at historic reconciliation of one woman, whose family The DeWolfs was the premier slave trading family in Bristol, Rhode Island. The entire town was build on the profits of slavery. katrina Brown, the spirit and image of her slave trading ancestor, performed an amazing feat, in the making of this film.

"In this feature documentary, filmmaker Katrina Browne discovers that her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She and nine cousins retrace the Triangle Trade and gain a powerful new perspective on the black/white divide."

This film will kick off the P.O.V. series on PBS this June.

I found this film to be remarkable in its plain spoken way, narrated by Ms. Brown. A very moving and powerful thing.
posted by Oyéah at 7:39 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I saw a great documentary film at Sundance, called "Traces Of The Trade".

"Traces Of The Trade" website.

Not only was the DeWolfe family involved in the slave trade in New England, but also was the Brown family.
"The Browns, one of the great mercantile families of colonial America, were Rhode Island slave traders. At least six of them -- James and his brother Obadiah, and James's four sons, Nicholas, John, Joseph, and Moses -- ran one of the biggest slave-trading businesses in New England, and for more than half a century the family reaped huge profits from the slave trade. 'When James Brown sent the Mary to Africa in 1736, he launched Providence into the Negro traffic and laid the foundation for the Brown fortune. From this year until 1790, the Browns played a commanding role in the New England slave trade.' Their donations to Rhode Island College were so generous that the name was changed to Brown University."
posted by ericb at 8:17 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History by Thomas Norman DeWolf. His blog.
posted by ericb at 8:20 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


This film will kick off the P.O.V. series on PBS this June.

P.O.V. Blog: 2008 P.O.V. Preview: Traces of the Trade.
posted by ericb at 8:23 PM on April 10, 2008


Is there really a point to tracking down the descendant of someone who wronged your distant relative? Should I be tracking down the descendants of the people who owned my serf ancestors? It seems like energy would be better expended on helping people who are slaves right now than on re-hashing the wrongs of the dead.
posted by mullingitover at 8:59 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


"do you realize that you might not be here if it weren't for that period in history?" - is such bullshit.

Actually he said that in response to David B. who said something about retribution. DB was saying "hey, your responsible for my slavery, you owe me something" and DA was saying "ok if that's true, then I'm also responsible for your existence, and you owe me something."

Invitapriore says no way, he might have never left Africa to begin with. DB will travel to Africa, realize they are very different from him, that he is actually an American and not an African, and come to appreciate his life and discover who he is. It will end on the note "There is nothing wrong with Black People".
posted by stbalbach at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2008


Is there really a point to tracking down the descendant of someone who wronged your distant relative? Should I be tracking down the descendants of the people who owned my serf ancestors? It seems like energy would be better expended on helping people who are slaves right now than on re-hashing the wrongs of the dead.

I have a little interest in genealogy--a couple of years ago I took a vacation where I traced by my family line five generations back. I visited the site in Tennessee where my great-great-great grandfather built a cabin and later donated the land for a church. That congregation still exists, and my ancestors are buried on the property. While visiting their graves, I happened to meet a distant cousin who invited me to her home and shared what she knew of the stories where our families overlapped. It was one of the best days of my life, this chance encounter with a bit of my history, a chance to walk on the land my ancestors homesteaded, to visit members of the church that started with his help. I didn't know about any of that until I took the trip.

Four generations ago, David A. Wilson's family were slaves. When he visits the place where they lived, he doesn't find a cabin or a church, he finds slave quarters. And David B. Wilson holds another piece of the puzzle. His family determined the manner of living for David A.'s family. We aren't talking about your distant serf ancestors 1000 years ago, we're talking about the man's great-great grandfather. Not so long ago, not so far away. His genealogy uncovers stories a lot more tragic than mine does. Why you think it's bad for him to converse with people connected to the other side of that story is truly beyond me. A lot of us, of all races, like know a little more about who we came from.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:24 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


distant serf ancestors 1000 years ago

Serfs were only freed in Russia by the Revolution, later than the freeing of American slaves. Immigrants of Eastern European stock could have serfs more recently in their family tree than Black Americans. I'm not comparing atrocities, I'm just sayin'.
posted by BinGregory at 10:57 PM on April 10, 2008


Sorry, I appear to have misremembered that date. According to Wikipedia, Russian serfs were freed in 1861, not by the 1917 Revolution. Still, serfdom isn't ancient history.
posted by BinGregory at 11:10 PM on April 10, 2008


Somebody looked into my family tree, and I have ancestors that owned slaves. Apparently I even have an ancestor that owned a textile factory/mill full of slaves whose stories were told in a book that was reviewed on Oprah, (this is an ancedote from a relative I can't prove it). They didn't leave me a darned blood drenched cent. (Although I'm sure I have benefited countless ways from the status quo whose origins are rooted in racism).

Also, my great great something great grandfather of hearty 62 years of age married his second or third wife, my great (Etc) grandmother, at the ripe young age of 12, and I'm related to some gang of murderous horse thieves.

But I like to think, these were progressive murderous horse thieves, they lived ahead of their time. When they saw somebody, with horse(s), it didn't matter that they were male or female, black or white, my ancestors would shoot them not based on the color of their skin, but the horse-headcount of their....darn this whole joke falls apart here.

I can't say that I've had much insight from looking into my family tree except further creepy realization of the fate that awaits all people. The cousin of mine that compiled all this took pictures of all the headstones of people related to me. Not the most uplifting flickr photo list.
posted by SomeOneElse at 11:16 PM on April 10, 2008


Wow this is something I would like to see. Thanks for the post.
posted by nola at 11:37 PM on April 10, 2008


invitapriore, if you think about his point of view for a moment you'll realize that none of us can escape our circumstances. I speak as a white man who has at least indirect relations to Quaker abolitionists, and a very possible but unproven connection to a notable Maryland planter (plantation) family (ironically, or perhaps not, through the same line).

Certainly the entire point of an exercise such as this is to break free of the little boxes we put people into.

If the DNA tests reveal them to be relatives, it raises a much deeper and less easily resolved question than before. If we are to hold David B. Wilson "responsible" for his ancestors' actions, what about holding David A. Wilson responsible for them? If you try to parse that you reveal a thicket of interacting and countervailing factors that refuse to be simplified, and such is the problem of race in America.

A thought-provoking sidebar that I ponder without resolution is how surprising it seems to David A. Wilson that he has such an historical connection to someone named David B. Wilson. But consider their ancestors named Wilson before the great migration north. The question of race in the south very much involved daily, immediate contact between people who almost certainly had lifelong knowledge of these connections. This probably is a key reason why the "solution" of the race problem in the South was in a sense not to talk about it.
posted by dhartung at 11:56 PM on April 10, 2008


This looks like what you get when you hold Macky Alston's Family Name up to a mirror. And every bit as wrenchingly good.
posted by skippyhacker at 12:19 AM on April 11, 2008


I heard a very moving talk by representatives of the black and white sides of the Hairston clan and later that same year there was a conference for the kin of slaves and slave owners: Coming to the Table.
posted by hala mass at 4:46 AM on April 11, 2008


The radio interview is excellent - this is great. Thanks.
posted by taliaferro at 10:00 AM on April 11, 2008


For those who own a television, a slightly edited version premieres tomorrow night on MSNBC.

MSNBC: ‘Not the descendants of victims but victors’.

'Today Show' interview with the two David Wilsons.
posted by ericb at 7:09 PM on April 11, 2008


MySpace -- Meeting David Wilson website.
posted by ericb at 7:12 PM on April 11, 2008


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