On Monday, NBC News published a 1768-word article detailing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s slave ancestors.
It concludes that two of his great-great-grandfathers, James McConnell and Richard Daley, owned at least 14 slaves in total in Alabama, according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses.
It also implies that Sen. McConnell’s background of slave ancestors could have influenced his policymaking, examining his history of statements about civil rights public figures and with regard to various civil rights legislation.
At a press conference, Sen. McConnell was asked whether he was aware that two of his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners and whether that information would prompt him to change his positions on reparations.
He responded, “I find myself once again in the same position as President Obama. We both oppose reparations and we both are the descendants of slave owners.”
In 2007, William Reitwiesner, an amateur genealogical researcher, published a history of former President Obama’s white mother’s family.
It showed that Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Duvall, owned a pair of slaves, and Obama’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, George Washington Overall, owned two slaves in Kentucky, according to the 1850 census record.
Using census information and documents from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, publications like The Baltimore Sun retraced and confirmed President Obama’s ancestry to those slave owners.
At the time, an Obama spokesman did not dispute the information and stated that the then senator’s ancestors “are representative of America.”
According to Ancestry.com, it is important to note that Obama’s mother is also a descendant from a slave named John Punch as well, a man who was deemed the first African to be declared “enslaved for life” in early Colonial Virginia.
Regardless, former President Obama is not alone as a high-ranking Democratic politician who is the descendant of slave owners.
Democratic presidential candidate and current Senator Kamala Harris is also a contender. Her father Donald Harris once wrote an essay titled “Reflections of a Jamaican Father.”
He states, “My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy [née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town] and to my maternal grandmother Miss Iris [née Iris Finegan, farmer and educator, from Aenon Town and Inverness, ancestry unknown to me].”
Hamilton Brown, who was alive from 1776 to 1843, was an Irish man who immigrated to Jamaica and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner and founder of Brown’s Town.
According to the National Archives in London, Hamilton Brown swore to holding at least around 80 slaves.
In light of their backgrounds, former President Obama opposed reparations to the descendants of slaves in 2008, while Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris has embraced reparations.
In February 2019, she agreed with the suggestion that government reparations for black Americans were necessary to address the legacies of slavery and discrimination.
However, she has been vague on the specifics of reparations, denying to state that she would support financial payouts outright to victims of slavery but willing to support mental health treatment for black Americans.
Perhaps she is being ambiguous for the time being to gauge how many Americans will discover that she is a descendant of slave owners.