Beto O’Rourke says he descended from slave owners, supports reparations
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke revealed on Sunday that he and his wife are descended from slave owners, according to documents he said he received recently.
The former House representative from El Paso, Texas, published a Medium blog post named after two slaves, Rose and Eliza, who he says his ancestors left to others in their will.
“Something that we’ve been thinking about and talking about in town hall meetings and out on the campaign — the legacy of slavery in the United States — now has a much more personal connection,” O’Rourke wrote, noting that his wife, Amy, also had ancestors who owned slaves.
The revelation came shortly after NBC News published findings from U.S. Census records saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of government reparations for slavery, is himself descended from slave owners.
The Kentucky Republican has since doubled down on his opposition to reparations, arguing that no one who is currently living is responsible for what he called America’s “original sin” of slavery.
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“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,” McConnell told reporters last month. “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’s remarks proved controversial, as critics said they reflected the politician’s racial blind spots.
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“McConnell benefited like any other individual, family or country would benefit — through the accumulation of generational wealth and privilege directly tied to the beastial submersion of other human beings into a system of long-term free labor and breeding,” Ricky L. Jones, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisvile, told the Louisville Courier-Journal of the USA TODAY Network.
“The benefits are far-reaching and innumerable,” Jones said.
Faced with similar findings, O’Rourke views his family history in a different light, using his ancestry to instead argue in support of reparations.
“They were able to build wealth on the backs and off the sweat of others, wealth that they would then be able to pass down to their children and their children’s children,” O’Rourke said of two of his great-great-great grandfathers.
“The way that fortune was passed through the generations from Andrew to me, misfortune was passed through the generations from Rose and Eliza to their descendants who are alive today,” O’Rourke wrote.
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He went on to outline examples of existing inequalities between “black America” and “white America,” including disparities in wealth, rates of incarceration and infant mortality, asserting that “there really are two Americas.”
“That only increases the urgency I feel to help change this country so that it works for those who have been locked-out of — or locked-up in — this system,” O’Rourke wrote.
Several other Democratic challengers have also expressed public support for reparations, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Julián Castro.
“We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine,” O’Rourke concluded. “It is only then, I believe, that we can take the necessary steps to repair the damage done and stop visiting this injustice on the generations that follow ours.”