Lots of Americans have slaveholding ancestors. The question for the present is what do you do to make up for that fact. In the case of Mitch McConnell, you double down on your family past.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said recently he opposes paying government reparations to the descendants of American slaves, has a family history deeply entwined in the issue: Two of his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners, U.S. census records show.
The two great-great-grandfathers, James McConnell and Richard Daley, owned a total of at least 14 slaves in Limestone County, Alabama — all but two of them female, according to the county “Slave Schedules” in the 1850 and 1860 censuses.
The details about McConnell’s ancestors, discovered by NBC News through a search of ancestry and census records, came in the wake of recent hearings on reparations before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Asked about the reparations issue, McConnell, R-Ky., said he was opposed to the idea, arguing it would be hard to figure out whom to compensate.
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, when none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” he said June 18, a day before the House reparations hearing. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president.”
NBC News, in several phone calls and emails to McConnell’s office, asked if the senator was aware that his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners. The office did not respond to those requests.
Slavery experts have stressed that descendants of slave owners should not be held personally responsible for the deeds of their forebears. But they have also argued that the families that descended from slave owners, like McConnell’s, are likely to have benefited from the labor of slaves that propped up farm families in earlier generations — a point made by many reparations supporters, who have said that descendants of slaves were never compensated for the economic benefit their forebears made to white families.
“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 at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank in Washington.
The Party of Lincoln has indeed become the Party of Calhoun, quite literally.