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What Trash: NBC Attacks McConnell Over Reparations And His Family's Slave-Owning Past

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

NBC News launched an attack on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) because his great-great-grand fathers, James McConnell and Richard Daley, reportedly owned at least 14 slaves in Alabama. NBC obtained the information from the “Slave Schedules” in the 1850 and 1860 censuses.


The news organization infers that McConnell opposes reparations because of his personal vested interest in not repaying descendants of slaves. The Congressman has argued he opposes reparations because it'd be difficult to determine who to repay and just how much.

“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 before the the House reparation hearings. “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.”

Here's what NBC said about McConnell:

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.


No news articles were found in which McConnell has previously spoken of his ancestors being slave owners. And in his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game,” he wrote that he was descended from “a long line of hardworking and often colorful McConnells,” but did not mention that any of them owned slaves. He did mention another James McConnell — apparently the father of the slave-owning James McConnell — who he said came from Ireland in the 1760s and fought for the colonies in the American Revolution.

As a legislator, McConnell has generally been supportive of civil rights measures, and said his parents, whom he has described as “very enlightened Southerners,” opposed the rampant segregation that surrounded his family in northern Alabama. He has said his hero is Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Kentucky Republican who died in 1991, best known for breaking the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act that had been led by other Southern senators.

However, like most Republicans, he supported the narrowing of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013, and has also been an advocate for strong voter ID laws. Both positions have been criticized by current civil rights leaders for making it more difficult for minorities to vote.


According to the report, the family's slaves had escaped and more had to be reacquired. But one important tidbit was discussed: the issue of tracing down descendants of slaves. The lack of record keeping makes it almost impossible to track descendants.

NBC put together a family tree so readers could get a visual of how many slaves each person owned.

But their conclusion says it all:

Historians say that contemporary Americans can learn from slave owner genealogies how many families directly or indirectly benefited from the labor of generations of slaves.

“No one is seeking to judge anyone’s ancestors,” said Seth Rockman, a history professor at Brown University and co-editor of “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development.”

“The whole conversation is about the American economic system as a whole, and the degree to which the debasement of African-descended people created the structures through which other Americans were able to prosper,” he said.

Louis Cain, professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago and an expert on the economics of slavery, said more Americans have been stained by slavery than they realize.

“I suspect with the mobility of the American population in the 20th and 21st centuries, most of us have ancestors that owned slaves, including many individuals who did not arrive until well after the Civil War,“ Cain said. “The responsibility for what happened was collective, not individual.”


First of all, there's a very real possibility that McConnell had no idea that his family owned slaves, just like not all of those of German descent know if their family members were Nazis. He may not have omitted that. He could have not known.

Not only that but how does the government determine who gets repaid? Is it every single current living descendant? Every descendant that comes in the future? People could very well have more kids between now and when the end of slavery tracking takes place, although, theoretically, it could be one giant never-ending project. We're talking about family history over hundreds of years. And at what point are decedents of slaves considered "repaid?"

Why does being against reparations mean that the person's family had a history of owning slaves? Can't people, like McConnell, not agree with slavery even if his family members may have owned slaves? People do evolve and move away from their family politically. 

Reparations also opens us up to so many things. What other "wrongs" needs to be rewritten and again, how do we determine when things are now even? 

Democrats need to quit pushing this really stupid idea and need to start answering some of these basic, logistical questions. While reparations sound great on paper, they make no sense practically. 


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