Dain Perry, a descendant of the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history, and Constance R. Perry, whose ancestors were enslaved, discussed reparations and the legacy of slavery at a Monday Harvard Divinity School webinar.
This event is the fifth installation in HDS’ six-part webinar series “Religion and the Legacies of Slavery,” which expands on the findings of the University’s April 2022 Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery Report. Harvard Divinity School professor of Africana Religious Studies Tracey E. Hucks moderated the discussion.
Constance Perry, who is descended from enslaved people in North Carolina, said she believes she and her husband Dain Perry were “brought together to do exactly what we’re doing.”
“I think our stories hopefully will help people to see that we can, in fact, have conversation,” Constance Perry said. “And that we’re able to do this work together.”
The Perrys have toured the country for more than 500 screenings of the 2008 documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” produced by Dain Perry’s cousin, Katrina Browne.
The documentary follows Browne, Dain Perry, and other descendants of the DeWolf family as they travel from Rhode Island to Ghana and then to Cuba to reckon with their ancestors’ role in enslavement.
The DeWolf family brought more than 10,000 enslaved Africans to the Americas and continued to hold investments in slavery through plantations in the Caribbean even after the abolishment of slavery in the Northern states.
During the event, the Perrys, who are members of the Episcopal Church, also discussed the importance of faith to their work.
A member of the Diocese of Massachusetts Racial Justice Commission, Constance Perry co-chaired a subcommittee that proposed a resolution calling for a reparations fund and the full disclosure of the church’s history related to slavery. The resolution passed almost unanimously in 2020.
“God has an interesting sense of humor. And I don’t know what he was up to, but I think that we were brought together for a reason,” Constance Perry said of her marriage. “Faith is at the core, I believe, of what we do and how we do it.”
During the event, Hucks asked Dain Perry whether he believes families like his should provide reparations to the descendants of enslaved people.
“I hesitate to say, ‘Yes, we should.’ But I think our society needs to make major steps in that direction with reparations,” Perry responded.
Dain Perry called on pastors, rectors, and other ordained attendees to “muster up the courage to preach about race.”
“It’s so critically important that our pulpits in this nation talk about this frequently and not on Martin Luther King Sunday, not for Black History Month, but at times that are unexpected,” Perry said.
During the webinar, the Perrys also discussed the concept of white privilege.
“I prefer to use the term white advantage,” Dain Perry said. “We have an advantage because of our white skin. We have a privilege because of our white skin.”
Dain Perry said it was important to understand the history and legacy of slavery today.
“We cannot heal as a nation until us white folks truly understand the history of how African Americans have been impacted over the years,” Dain Perry said.
The Divinity School will conclude its lecture series on March 20 with a conversation titled “Reflecting on Religion and the Legacies of Slavery.”