Add Slaveholding Ancestors to Beto O’Rourke Contrition List, Along With White Male Privilege

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has revealed that his ancestors owned slaves — a startling disclosure amid an ongoing debate within the party over reparations.In an email to supporters and a post on Medium, the former El Paso congressman wrote Sunday that he and his wife, Amy O’Rourke, were both descendants of slaveholders, and he vowed to recommit himself to addressing the legacy of inequality, including support for reparations. O’Rourke said he learned of his ancestral ties to slavery after an investigation by The Guardian, which published a report about his family history on Sunday, shortly after his own announcement.The report found that O’Rourke’s paternal great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Cowan Jasper, owned two slave women — Rose and Eliza — in Kentucky in the 1850s, according to documents on Ancestry.com. The women were sold and priced at $800 each after Jasper’s death.O’Rourke’s maternal great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Samuel Williams, “most likely” owned slaves, too. He wrote that he is unsure if his ancestor is the same Frederick Williams shown in records as a slaveholder in Georgia. Williams’ son, Columbus Marion Williams, joined the Confederate forces when he was 16 with his 44-year old father. Amy O’Rourke’s ancestor, Richard B. Levy, fought for the Confederacy and his family owned several slaves in Virginia, according to the report. “I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others,” O’Rourke wrote. “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 has repeatedly acknowledged during his White House run that he has enjoyed advantages not available to many other Americans, as a white male from a politically connected and relatively affluent background.The personal ties, he wrote, underscore that African Americans continue to face inequality even as descendants of slave-owners continue to reap privileges.“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. In some way, and in some form, that advantage would pass through to me and my children,” O’Rourke wrote, referring to both Jasper and Williams. “That those enslaved Americans owned by my ancestors were denied their freedom, denied the ability to amass wealth, denied full civil rights in America after slavery also had long term repercussions for them and their descendants,” he continued.O’Rourke told The Guardian that he visits Ancestry.com about once a year, but has only researched his father’s Irish side of the family. He said looking further into his ancestry would have taken “time I don’t have.”Reparations have shot into the spotlight in Washington in recent months. When asked about his ancestral ties to two slave-owners, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is against reparations, shot back that Barack Obama — the nation’s first African American president — was also a descendant of slave-owners. Last month, Congress held a hearing on reparations for the first time in more than a decade. The bill to create a commission to study and propose reparations — led by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston — is supported by O’Rourke and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.O’Rourke has struggled to gain traction in the crowded Democratic primary field. He has been polling at 2% to 4% nationally.Sen. Ted Cruz, who narrowly survived a challenge by O’Rourke last fall, taunted his rival by painting him as a child of privilege. Unlike O’Rourke’s ancestors, he tweeted, his own father was a “penniless immigrant from Cuba” and his mother was an Irish-Italian first-generation college student. Cruz, however, wrote that Democrats were “far too willing to give away” money for reparations.  Continue reading...

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