Two great-great-grandfathers of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell owned slaves, according to a new report.
NBC reported that James McConnell and Richard Daley, both of Limestone County, Alabama, owned a total of at least 14 slaves, according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses. NBC said the find was significant because it brought the issue of reparations for slavery “close to home.”
“Historians say that contemporary Americans can learn from slave owner genealogies how many families directly or indirectly benefitted from the labor of generations of slaves,” NBC reported.
Last month, prior to a fiery House hearing on reparations to the descendants of slaves, McConnell spoke out against reparations, something noted by several media outlets Tuesday as though there was a connection between McConnell’s ancestors and his comments.
Mitch McConnell’s ancestors owned slaves, according to a new report. He opposes reparations. https://t.co/N4btQN789E
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 9, 2019
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” the Kentucky Republican said at the time, according to CNN.
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”
“I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate,” McConnell said. “No, I don’t think reparations are a good idea.”
NBC said it found out about McConnell’s ancestors by looking through old census records. It noted that having ancestors who owned slaves was never mentioned by McConnell in either writing or talking about his past.
McConnell briefly touched on the question, during a session with reporters on Tuesday.
“I find myself once again in the same position as President [Barack] Obama. We both oppose reparations and we both are the descendants of slave owners,” he said, according to NBC.
Some people downplayed the impact of the findings.
“So far this year the news media has shockingly uncovered that… Mitch McConnell is from Alabama,” CNN commentator Scott Jennings said, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. “Excellent work.”
Wait, Sooo… a hit piece on Mitch McConnell’s great-grandfather owning slaves came out THE DAY BEFORE Amy McGrath got a huge push for announcing she’d run against him?
THE COMPLETELY UNBIASED FREE-PRESS HAS REMARKABLE AND UNCANNY TIMING!
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) July 9, 2019
Just wait until reporters investigate which political party fought for slavery, voted against emancipation, founded the KKK, established Jim Crowe laws & fought against the Civil Rights Act.
(Hint: The Democratic Party)
That story will be a bombshellhttps://t.co/6Dprf1vbgl
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 9, 2019
McConnell’s critics were vocal.
“Perhaps that is why McConnell is so opposed to reparations, because it would mean he would have to take a long hard look in the mirror and admit that his family benefited from owning black bodies, mainly the bodies of black women,” Kentucky poet and activist Hannah Drake said.
“Before Mitch McConnell attempts to tell this nation about reparations, perhaps he can start by dealing with his own family’s part in slavery,” Drake said. “What, if anything, does he think his family owes the descendants of the slaves his family owned? Be assured your sins will and have found you out, Mitch.”
One commentator said owning slaves would have helped McConnell’s ancestors become more wealthy.
“Smaller farms and plantations still benefited enormously from the unpaid labor of enslaved people, which likely helped them build multigenerational wealth,” said Chuck Collins, senior scholar of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies.
“In his defense, and to paraphrase him on reparations, he wasn’t alive then,” University of Louisville professor Ricky L. Jones, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department, said.
“He can’t change that. What is unfortunate is that he maintains a certain level of damaging racial insensitivity and indifference that marked his distant kin. He can change that. Let’s hope he will.”
Others said that the finding says less about McConnell individually than it does about American society at large.
“No one is seeking to judge anyone’s ancestors,” said Seth Rockman, a history professor at Brown University and co-editor of “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development.”
“The whole conversation is about the American economic system as a whole, and the degree to which the debasement of African-descended people created the structures through which other Americans were able to prosper,” he said.
Louis Cain, professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, said the taint of slavery touched many who do not know they were tainted.
“I suspect with the mobility of the American population in the 20th and 21st centuries, most of us have ancestors that owned slaves, including many individuals who did not arrive until well after the Civil War. The responsibility for what happened was collective, not individual.”
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