A slavery story and a denial in the U.S

A Journal of People report

Slavery is a now a political issue in today’s United States. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes paying government reparations to the descendants of American slaves. One of these debates is concerning Senator McConnell’s ancestors owning slaves. Census records show his family benefited from the slaves’ labor.

A report by NBC News said:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said recently he opposes paying government reparations to the descendants of American slaves, has a family history deeply entwined in the issue: Two of his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners, U.S. census records show.

“The two great-great-grandfathers, James McConnell and Richard Daley, owned a total of at least 14 slaves in Limestone County, Alabama — all but two of them female, according to the county ‘Slave Schedules’ in the 1850 and 1860 censuses.

“The details about McConnell’s ancestors, discovered by NBC News through a search of ancestry and census records, came in the wake of recent hearings on reparations before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Asked about the reparations issue, McConnell, R-Ky., said he was opposed to the idea, arguing it would be hard to figure out whom to compensate.

“‘I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, when none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,’ he said June 18, a day before the House reparations hearing. ‘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 report – “Sen. Mitch McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers owned 14 slaves, bringing reparations issue close to home” – datelined July 9, 2019 said:

NBC News, in several phone calls and emails to McConnell’s office, asked if the senator was aware that his great-great-grandfathers were slave owners. The office did not respond to those requests.

“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.

“Collins’ assertion is supported by research done by two American professors and one Danish college professor, who found that the Southern slave owners were able to rebound more rapidly economically than non-slave owners after the Civil War.

“‘We see recovery for the sons of both small and large slaveholders, as well as in the counties that specialized in non-plantation crops,’ wrote the authors of The Intergenerational Effects Of A Large Wealth Shock: White Southerners After The Civil War, a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the nation’s leading nonprofit economic research organization.”

The report by Corky Siemaszko, a senior writer at NBC News Digital, said:

“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.”

The report said:

“In the 1850 census, his great-great-grandfather Richard Daley owned five female slaves ranging in age from 2 to 22. Four are classified as ‘mulatto’ — a now-offensive term for mixed-race people. Their ages were 2, 4, 18 and 20. One 22-year-old slave was identified as black. None of them are named in the document.

“Little is known about the four female slaves listed in the 1860 census who were owned by another of McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers, James McConnell. They are identified in the records only by their ages, which were 1, 3, 4 and 25, and by their race — ‘mulatto.’

“Richard Daley, in that same census, owned five slaves, three females and two males.

“Two of those females, ages 30 and 11, were classified as mulatto, according to the records. The other woman, who was 39, was listed as black. Both males, one who was either 10 or 12 years old and one who was 7, were listed as mulatto. None are identified by name.

“It appears from the records that most of the McConnell and Daley family slaves managed to run away. The 1860 census slave schedule indicates that prior to the census count, all of James McConnell’s slaves escaped, as did all but one of Daley’s slaves.

“In the 1850 census, four of Daley’s five slaves were also marked as having escaped, so it appears that he acquired additional slaves between 1850 and 1860.”

The report added:

“‘There were a lot more runaways, including some gone for years, than many historians have believed,’ said Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, a pioneering historian who has spent much of her life gathering records about slaves. ‘The enslaved in the Deep South escaped into the wilderness including swamps, by boat to Cuba or the North, Midwest and Canada, and some headed south to Mexico.’

“Hall is a co-founder of Slave Biographies: The Atlantic Database Network, an online project that describes itself as a ‘database of information on the identities of enslaved people in the Atlantic World.’

“Even if they had not run away, tracking down the descendants of slaves who worked the smaller holdings can be hard because record-keeping in rural places like northern Alabama was hit-or-miss, Tony Burrough, a Chicago-based African American genealogist, said.

“‘Identifying the descendants and finding them would be a complicated project, and what I mean by that is that it would take a lot of work, searching for all kinds of records that might include the names of the enslaved people.’ Burroughs said. ‘It is very rare that the story of who enslaved a person gets passed down from generation to generation. There is the assumption that somebody with the same surname owned their ancestors, but that doesn’t always hold true.’ In cases where better records were kept, however, it has been possible to track down the descendants of slaves.”

NBC News has build a McConnell family tree by locating obituaries of his predecessors, by searching through online genealogical websites like Ancestry.com, and by tracking down his memoir and news articles in which the senator spoke about his relatives and his family’s deep roots in northern Alabama. In addition, members of the McConnell family have built and posted a separate online family tree, which supports the genealogical trace performed by NBC News.

These family trees, according to the report, do not themselves show slave ownership, but the names, dates and locations of the great-great-grandfathers match precisely with the slave ownership records in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. There was no one else with the same names as the two slave owners, James McConnell and Richard Daley, listed in the two censuses for Limestone County.

The NBC News report said:

“McConnell is now closely identified with Kentucky as its best-known politician, but he was born Feb. 20, 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama. Generations of his family had lived in and around Limestone County, which is west of Huntsville and just south of the Tennessee border.

“From ages 5 to 8, McConnell lived in a rented bungalow in Athens, Alabama, as he has recounted. His paternal grandparents are buried in the Athens City Cemetery. And he has spoken proudly in the past about his north Alabama roots.

“In a Dec. 28, 2014, interview with The News Courier, a daily newspaper published in Athens that covers Limestone County, McConnell described his ancestry in detail.

“‘My great-grandfather was a circuit-riding Cumberland Presbyterian minister,’ the senator told the paper. ‘We still have his original saddle in my wife’s and my archives in Louisville.’

“The senator related the same story in his memoir. ‘My dad’s grandfather was a circuit-riding Calvinist preacher who sermonized at a different church every Sunday, carrying his Bible in the saddlebags I still have,’ he wrote.

“McConnell was talking about the Rev. Samuel Porter McConnell, who lived from 1844 to 1921, and was married to Othella Daley, according to a marriage record on Ancestry.com. The minister was the son of James McConnell, the slave owner, according to Alabama death records.

“Othella Daley, Sen. McConnell’s great-grandmother (whose maiden name was spelled Daily or Daly in some records) was the daughter of Richard Daley, the slave owner. She appears in an 1850 census record from Limestone County, which identifies her (under the first name Offillia) as a 1-year-old member of Daley’s household.

“She and the Rev. McConnell were the parents of the senator’s grandfather, Robert McConnell, owner of the McConnell Service Funeral Home in Athens, according to death records and an April 17, 1958 obituary in the Huntsville Times.

“‘My grandfather, Robert Hayes McConnell, went into business with his brother, Add, and bought what became McConnell funeral home, which still carries the name,’ the senator told The News Courier. Robert Hayes McConnell’s son, Addison Mitchell McConnell, was Sen. McConnell’s father. (The senator’s first name, like his father’s, is Addison.)”

It said:

“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.’”

In a town

The following the report – “Top of Form

In McConnell’s boyhood town where his family owned slaves, the reparations debate thrives” – by Sandy Mazza in USA TODAY Network published on July 14, 2019 said more:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was born about 40 miles from his great-great-grandfathers’ Alabama cotton farms, worked by slaves 100 years before.

“Like so many long-standing Southern white families, McConnell’s forebearers built their wealth with free slave labor and cheap land. Two of his great-great-grandfathers owned more than a dozen slaves, census records reviewed by the USA TODAY Network show.

“The Kentucky Republican has known of his family’s slave-owning past since at least 1994, when he wrote a letter to a Limestone County judge requesting information about his great-great-grandfather James McConnell, a slave owner, and the settlement of his ancestor’s estate.

“But his 2016 memoir, The Long Game, contains no mention that the ‘colorful McConnells’ he wrote about owned slaves, NBC reported.

“As a child during segregation, McConnell lived on the white side of Athens, where black residents were only allowed to visit for work and were typically paid very low wages.”

The Athens, Alabama datelined report said:

“While Kentucky’s senior senator has consistently condemned slavery and racism throughout his long political career, his vocal opposition to slavery reparations in any form has fueled the growing national debate about whether African Americans deserve restitution for enduring centuries of economic exploitation.

“‘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 in June. ‘We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, bypassing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African-American president.’

“McConnell’s remarks, which made national headlines, came the day before a rare congressional hearing in which Democratic leaders and celebrities sought support for a bill that would establish a committee to ‘study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations.’

“McConnell did not respond this week to a USA TODAY Network request for additional comment about why he opposes reparations despite the lasting economic damages African Americans suffered from slavery and segregation.

“Records about the McConnell family shed light on the history of the region that residents say is still shaped by the legacy of slavery.

“The senator’s family history could be a case study in the way many whites built lasting wealth in part by exploiting the labor of enslaved African Americans.”

The report said:

“The enduring legacy of that history lies in the balance sheets, supporters of reparations contend. On average, black Americans own roughly one-tenth of the amount of wealth that white families do, according to a Federal Reserve statistics.

“David Malone, whose family has roots as deep as the McConnell family in the Limestone County area of northern Alabama, believes reparations are a good idea.

“Malone’s great-grandparents were slaves, and he remembers his grandparents, who were sharecroppers, telling him how white farmowners kept them poor and in debt.

“‘I know it would be almost impossible to pay everybody related to slaves,’ Malone said. ‘When you think of how many people’s lives were lost working for nothing for 400 years, I would agree it should be done. But how it should be done I don’t know.’”

‘Alabama Fever’ drew McConnell’s forebearers

The report added:

“In northern Alabama, the McConnell family’s slave-owning history is a common one among longtime white families.

“His maternal and paternal great-great-grandparents, James McConnell and Richard H. Daley, moved from North Carolina and Virginia during the “Alabama Fever” years in the early and mid-1800s, census records show.

“They were farmers and may have brought slaves with them when they moved, as many white families did.

“It was a boom period for the cotton industry, fueled by the revolutionary invention of the cotton gin in 1793, and Alabama had plenty of cheap, fertile land.

“In 1838, James McConnell, Mitch McConnell’s paternal great-great-grandfather, bought more than 600 acres, according to Limestone County property records.

“The lush land was near the Tennessee River in the northwesternmost corner of Alabama, on the Tennessee state line.

“‘In that time, the Tennessee River was raging, and there was fertile land that you could pretty much buy for nothing,’ said James Walker, a local historian and retired teacher whose ancestors were slaves and sharecroppers in the area. ‘Alabama became a state in 1819, and the Civil War started in 1861. So, for 40 years or so, slavery was big in Limestone County. Slaves outnumbered the whites.’

“In 1850, about 17,000 people lived in Limestone County, Alabama, and 8,500 were slaves, said county archivist Rebekah Davis.

“‘There were a few very wealthy planter families that came here from Virginia and the Carolinas who owned a very large number of slaves,’ Davis said. ‘There’s still a lot of black Malones in this county because there was a white Malone who owned lots and lots of slaves. It’s still the most common black name in Limestone County.’

“Davis, part of a group working to preserve the only black school in Limestone County for decades after the Civil War, said economic disparities persist, but she doesn’t support paying reparations for the decisions of people who lived more than 100 years ago.

“In some cases, descendants of slaves have prospered, she noted. The Bridgeforth family of Limestone County is one of America’s most successful black farming families.

“‘They did have to start one foot behind, and the black section of town is economically depressed,’ Davis said. ‘But I don’t think you can equitably say: “Your ancestor was worth this much.”’

The McConnell family slaves

The report said:

“After NBC News reported that McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers had owned 14 slaves, he responded by pointing out that President Barack Obama’s ancestors were slave owners.

“‘You know, once again I find myself in the same position as President Obama,’ he said. ‘We both oppose reparations, and both are the descendants of slaveholders.’

“A USA TODAY Network review of census documents and local property and accounting records show that slave ownership was passed down through generations and persisted in the McConnell family through the Civil War.

“Richard Daley, McConnell’s maternal great-great-grandfather, reported owning five young female slaves in the 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule.

“But he said that four ‘mulatto,’ or mixed race, slaves – ages 20, 18, 4 and 2 – were escaped fugitives. One 22-year-old black woman remained at his farm, the document shows.

“In the 1860 census, Daley reported owning another five slaves – a 30-year-old ‘mulatto’ female, an 11-year-old ‘mulatto’ female and two ‘mulatto’ boys ages 7 and 10 or 12.

“They also escaped, according to the document, but one 39-year-old black female slave remained.

“The names of slaves and receipts of sale transactions are difficult to trace. Slaves either moved with families from other states into Alabama or were purchased at auctions in Montgomery.

“Josiah and Jane Daley, the parents of Richard Daley, also owned slaves, according to Limestone County Chancery Court records from the mid-1800s. A property dispute mentions their two female slaves, 10-year-old Nancy and 20-year-old Eliza.

“James McConnell, whose farm was next to Daley’s, had four female ‘mulatto’ slaves ages 25, 4, 3 and 1 who all escaped, according to the 1860 census.

“But, after the Civil War broke out, James McConnell had numerous slaves, according to his accounts the USA TODAY Network reviewed.

$4 for boots; $1,500 for slaves

The report said:

“Mitch McConnell requested some of those records in 1994, nine years after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

“‘I have been researching my family history and would appreciate your assistance,’ he wrote in a letter to the Limestone County Archives. ‘I would like information relating to the settlement of the estate of James McConnell.’

“The file the senator requested documented James McConnell’s purchases and sales, administered by his son, Andrew. It served as his will and included a list of heirs to receive payments upon his death.

“In 1860, James McConnell paid $4 for boots, $1.40 for ‘lady shoes,’ $3 for two bushels of wheat, 75 cents for a long-handle shovel, and $3 for ‘1 fine hat,’ records show.

“The accounts also included slave sales during and after the Civil War.

“On April 15, 1863, the ledger noted: ‘To amount received on sale of slaves Confederate state money $1,500.’

“At the time, the area was occupied by Union Army troops, which included two local black infantry regiments.

“After the war, in March 1867, James McConnell recorded: ‘To amount received of Elledge by way of compromise of the balance of the amount due on sale of slaves $235.’

Diverging fortunes for blacks and whites 

“Mitch McConnell’s family’s prominence is still apparent in Athens, where he lived until the third grade, when his family moved for better opportunities.

“The McConnell Funeral Home that his grandfather bought during the 1918 influenza epidemic is still operating. And McConnell’s great-uncle served as Limestone County probate judge from 1928 to 1946.

“But there are clear indications that success and equality have come much more slowly for African Americans in Athens.

“There is only one black-owned business downtown: The Sweetest Thing Tea Room.

“Black obituaries and funeral notices only recently began being added to the county archives, where white families have long had their loved ones’ information recorded.

“‘Slavery still affects the fortunes of African Americans. On one side of town, there are immaculate lawns and houses with two-car garages,’ said Walker, the local historian. ‘On the other side of town, you’ve got rundown shacks and terrible lawns.’

“Walker remembers segregated water fountains, restrooms and movie theaters.

“‘It was terrible,’ he said. ‘I never went in the white restroom, but, in the colored restroom, there was paper on the floor, and it was never clean.’

“Walker’s great-grandfather escaped slavery and became a soldier before establishing his own farm. But the family struggled, and after graduating from Morehouse College, Walker faced a choice of farming cotton or going into the military.

“He joined the Army in the Vietnam War and retired about two decades later as a lieutenant colonel. He went on to teach African American history.

“‘The Jewish people received reparations from the Holocaust, and Japanese people received money for their internment during World War II,’ said Walker, who supports reparations. ‘This country is built primarily on the backs of African Americans. And the primary difference between African Americans and European Americans today is economics.’

“Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s former home with its large windows, porch and white picket fence stands on a tree-lined street near the town square.

“A neighbor across the street remembered playing with water guns with McConnell as children, according to an Athens News Courier article.

“Richard Martin, who is white and about the age as the 77-year-old Kentucky senator, remembers segregation differently. His family also has deep roots in Limestone County.

“‘When I was a little boy, we had a little club and initiation was you had to drink out of a black fountain,’ Martin said. ‘We thought it was something, that we were tough.

“‘I was the little white boy who had everything. We had African American folks working for us. But segregation cheated me, too.’

“Martin said he didn’t make any black friends until he joined the Army, and he wishes it had happened earlier.

“Martin opposes the idea of reparations. But he serves on the board working to preserve the former all-black Trinity High School, which was founded by a missionary in 1865 and provided the rare opportunity for black children to get an education. It’s now a community and event center.”

‘Watch him, don’t trust him’

It added:

“Nowadays, race relations are mostly cordial in Limestone County but for a few rare blowups.

“Cotton is still a popular crop to farm in the area, but technology has replaced the need for most human labor.

“In April, a brawl erupted at Athens High School after a parent started a ‘Black Lives Matter’ chant on campus. When police responded, a fight broke out. A video showed officers hitting several students.

“The incident prompted gossip around town for a few days, locals said. But they viewed it as an outlier.

“Limestone County Probate Judge Charles Woodroof, who holds the title McConnell’s great-uncle once had, shares a similar family history. His family moved from Virginia to farm the cheap land in the 1800s, and they owned slaves.

“But to Woodroof, reparations are an archaic idea.

“‘I vaguely remember a couple of situations where there might have been two water fountains,’ Woodroof said. ‘I know from being in this position and being an attorney here that a lot of people have been highly successful – both African Americans and whites.

‘We’re so many generations beyond that. It was part of our history, and we learned it in school. But I don’t experience it.’

“But for many descendants of slaves in the area, reparations would bring some long-overdue economic justice, they say.

“‘It would mean that somebody has finally agreed that we deserve something, and I would give it to my grandkids,’ said Malone, whose relatives were slaves and sharecroppers.

“‘My grandmother never taught me to hate. But she was treated so bad by the white man. So, she told me: ‘Watch him. Don’t trust him, because if there’s something you’ve got that he wants, he will beat you out of it.’”

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: – “McConnell family benefited from slavery for generations, records show”

A response

Another report – “Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Mitch McConnell responds to report his ancestors owned slaves by saying Obama’s did too” by Nicholas Wu in USA TODAY (published on July 9, 2019 and updated on July 10, 2019) said:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to an NBC 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 NBC‘s 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.”

It said:

“The Obama campaign had addressed the reports at the time, telling the Baltimore Sun 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.’

The Washington datelined report said:

“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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