McConnell says both his and Obama’s ancestors owned slaves

by Kim Boateng Posted on July 10th, 2019

Washington: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to a report that his ancestors owned slaves by telling reporters he and former President Barack Obama were “once again in the same position.”

“I find myself once again in the same position as President Obama. We both opposed reparations and we both are the descendants of slave-owners,” McConnell said in a Tuesday news conference following Senate Republicans’ weekly conference meeting.

McConnell had been asked about the report, which found two of his great-great-grandfathers owned at least 14 slaves, according to report search of the 1850 and 1860 censuses.

McConnell’s comments about Obama referred to reports from 2007 about the then-presidential candidate’s ancestry on his mother’s side. The Baltimore Sun and other outlets had retraced Barack Obama’s ancestry to confirm the geneology, and found in the 1850 census that Obama’s great-great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side owned two slaves, as did one of Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers.

The Obama campaign had addressed the reports at the time, telling reporters in March 2007, “it is a true measure of progress that the descendant of a slave owner would come to marry a student from Kenya and produce a son who would grow up to be a candidate for president of the United States.”

Ancestry.com had also done an analysis in 2012 and found that Obama’s mother was also descended from a slave named John Punch, who was the first African to be declared “enslaved for life” in early Colonial Virginia.

Obama opposed reparations as a “practical matter” when asked about it by Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, saying, “I have much more confidence in my ability, or any president or any leader’s ability, to mobilize the American people around a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment to help every child in poverty in this country than I am in being able to mobilize the country around providing a benefit specific to African Americans as a consequence of slavery and Jim Crow.”

McConnell previously sparked controversy about reparations, telling reporters that reparations were not a “good idea” and that the United States had tried to solve the “original sin of slavery” by, among other things, electing an “African American president.”

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, when none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” McConnell said on June 19. “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.”

The idea of reparations has recently broken into the political mainstream. The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on June 19 on a bill, H.R. 40, that would set up a commission to explore the possibility of reparations for slavery. The bill is unlikely to pass, but several Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of some form of reparations or the study of ways to implement reparations, including Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Marianne Williamson.

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