General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Truth, Repair, and Reconciliation

General Assembly 2008 Event 4011

Presenters: Rev. David Pettee, Ministerial Credentialing Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA); Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris, Director of Congregational Services for the UUA; Rev, Wendy von Zirpolo; and Tom DeWolf.. Sponsored by UUA Staff.

Last year, delegates to the 2007 General Assembly resolved that the Unitarian Unversalist Association (UUA) and its member congregations be asked to research their histories for stories of racism, oppression, and resistance. In this workshop, presenters shared stories discovered while doing this research on the UUA, and a series of congregational and district representatives reported on truth, repair, and reconciliation work done at a local level.

In the second part of the workshop, Tom DeWolf, a descendant of one of the most notorious slave traders in American history, talked and answered questions about his new book, Inheriting the Trade. Participants then broke into small groups to discuss goals and strategies they could use in beginning or continuing this work in their local communities.

To begin implementing the responsive resolution on truth, repair, and reconciliation adopted at the 2007 General Assembly, the UUA, with leadership provided by Tracey Robinson-Harris, Director of Congregational Services, and David Pettee, Ministerial Credentialing Director, engaged Rev. Dr. Gordon D. Gibson, president of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society, to research the nearly two-hundred-year history of the UUA and its predecessor organizations. Dr. Gibson’s report was distributed at the workshop.

In the reports on local activities:

  • The UU congregation in Brewster, Massachusetts, found some evidence of a connection to support from a slave trader. Although the evidence did not point to a direct connection, the congregation felt that it was strong enough to warrant mounting a plaque with the story displayed in the building.
  • Michelle Walsh, affiliate community minister of the United First Parish Church (Unitarian) in Quincy, Massachusetts, spoke about the two U.S. presidents—John Adams and John Quincy Adams—and their wives buried there. She also characterized the congregation today as small, mostly white, and mostly working class. She told of encountering some resistance to work on racial equality there, which puzzled her until someone told her during a forum at church that "Quincy [today] is made up of people who fled Dorchester during the [school] bussing controversy." Aha!

Tom DeWolf, talked and answered questions about his new book, Inheriting the Trade, and the related documentary film, Tracing the Trade, produced by one of his cousins. The book and the film both show how most non-African and non-native Americans benefit from the triangular trade which brought slaves to this country. Even Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine and Russian Jews fleeing pogroms benefited, he noted—even though they arrived after slavery ended—because they were granted a higher status at Ellis Island than Africans entering or already here.

Reported by Bill Lewis, edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley

Tracey Robinson-Harris speaks at General Assembly 2008
Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris
Beacon Press author Tom DeWolf
Beacon Press author Tom DeWolf