Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke acknowledged Sunday that his ancestors, as well as his wife Amy’s, had owned slaves. O’Rourke wrote in a post on Medium that his paternal great-great-great grandfather enslaved two women in the 1850s. His maternal great-great-great grandfather, he added, “most likely” also owned slaves.
“I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others,” O’Rourke wrote in the post. “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’s disclosure was made shortly before the publication of a report in The Guardian that detailed the former Texas congressman’s slave-owning ancestry.
Genealogy website Ancestry.com has “abundant documentation” of O’Rourke’s and his wife’s ancestors’ slave owning and their support for the Confederacy, The Guardian reported, noting that O’Rourke is listed as a member of the site.
Andrew Jasper, O’Rourke’s paternal great-great-great grandfather, enslaved two women named Eliza and Rose, both of whom were auctioned off in a “crying sale” after Jasper died, the report said.
Amy O’Rourke’s family had also owned several slaves, including ”‘one negro man called Peter,’ ‘a boy called Darsy,’ ‘a girl called Sally,’ a ‘negro man called Ned’ and ‘one other called Moses,’” the report added, citing a 1798 probate record.
O’Rourke told the outlet that he and his wife had known “nothing” about their families’ slave-owning past, and had been deeply troubled by the revelation.
“Amy and I sat down and talked through this,” O’Rourke said. “How Andrew was able, through his descendants, to pass on the benefits of owning other human beings. And ultimately I and my children are beneficiaries of that.”
O’Rourke, who has previously expressed support for reparations for descendants of slaves, reiterated this position on Sunday night.
“I will continue to support reparations, beginning with an important national conversation on slavery and racial injustice,” he wrote on Medium.
As The Guardian noted, tens of millions of people living in America likely have ancestors who owned slaves ― though many are unaware of this history.
O’Rourke said it’s critical that Americans “know our own story as it relates to the national story.”
“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,” he said.
Last week, an NBC News report revealed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s two great-great-great grandfathers had enslaved at least 14 people in Alabama in the 1800s.
McConnell, who opposes reparations, later shrugged off the report and likened himself to former President Barack Obama.
“You know, I find myself once again in the same position” as Obama, McConnell said at a press conference when asked about the NBC report.
“We both oppose reparations, and we both are the descendants of slaveholders,” he said.
McConnell failed to clarify that while Obama is the descendant of slave owners, the former president also counts the first African slave in the American colonies as an ancestor, according to Ancestry.com; and while the Republican senator from Kentucky has dismissed reparations because, he said, “no one currently alive was responsible” for slavery, Obama has argued that it’s “hard to find a model” for reparations which could be effectively administered and would have political support.