Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a direct descendant of two slave owners in his family line, according to an NBC report published Monday.
James McConnell and Richard Daley, two of the Kentucky Republican’s great-great-grandfathers, owned at least 14 slaves in Limestone County, Ala., NBC reported, citing 19th-century census records. All but two of the slaves were female.
McConnell, who grew up in the area of Limestone County, has said he opposes reparations, the process of giving compensation to the descendants of slaves. The idea of reparations has recently animated the political debate surrounding racial injustice.
“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 in June before a House committee held hearings on the matter. “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.”
McConnell did not return a request for comment from The Washington Post.
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.
NBC reported it did not find any record of McConnell acknowledging his family’s history, including in his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game.” The book mentions slavery twice, including a chapter about Barack Obama that calls it the country’s “original sin,” saying it was a “proud moment” when Obama was elected.
NBC reported that Daley, the father of McConnell’s great-grandmother, Othella Daley, owned five female slaves between the ages of 2 and 22, according to the 1850 Census. Four of the slaves were marked as having escaped, NBC reported.
In the next census in 1860, he was reported to own five slaves, three men and two women. James McConnell was listed as having owned four slaves in the 1860 Census, all of whom escaped. None of the slaves were identified by name.
A number of contenders for the Democratic slot for president in 2020 have come out in support of reparations.