Beto O'Rourke says he is descended from slave owners, supports reparations to unite 'two Americas'

Vandana Ravikumar
Twice in two days, Beto O'Rourke has compared a recent Trump rally to Nuremberg rallies in Nazi Germany. But the 2020 Democrat said he also believes that not everyone at Trump's recent North Carolina rally is a racist.

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke revealed Sunday that he and his wife are descended from slave owners, according to documents he said he received recently.

The former House representative from El Paso, Texas, published a Medium blog post named after two slaves, Rose and Eliza, who he says his ancestors left to others in their will. 

"Something that we’ve been thinking about and talking about in town hall meetings and out on the campaign – the legacy of slavery in the United States – now has a much more personal connection," O'Rourke wrote, noting that his wife, Amy, also had ancestors who owned slaves. 

The revelation came shortly after NBC News published findings from U.S. Census records saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of government reparations for slavery, is himself descended from slave owners.  

The Kentucky Republican has since doubled down on his opposition to reparations, arguing that no living person is responsible for what he called America's "original sin" of slavery. 

'Alabama Fever': In McConnell’s boyhood town where his family owned slaves, the reparations debate thrives

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," McConnell told reporters last month. "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."

McConnell's remarks proved controversial; critics said they reflected the politician's racial blind spots.

Mitch McConnell: We paid for 'sin of slavery' by electing Obama

"McConnell benefited like any other individual, family or country would benefit – through the accumulation of generational wealth and privilege directly tied to the beastial submersion of other human beings into a system of long-term free labor and breeding," Ricky L. Jones, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisvile, told the Louisville Courier-Journal of the USA TODAY Network.

"The benefits are far-reaching and innumerable," Jones said.

Faced with similar findings, O'Rourke views his family history in a different light, using his ancestry to instead argue in support of reparations. 

"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," O'Rourke said of two of his great-great-great grandfathers. 

"The way that fortune was passed through the generations from Andrew to me, misfortune was passed through the generations from Rose and Eliza to their descendants who are alive today," O'Rourke wrote. 

'A sense of anger': Ta-Nehisi Coates, Danny Glover call for slavery reparations before Congress

He went on to outline examples of existing inequalities between "black America" and "white America," including disparities in wealth, rates of incarceration and infant mortality, asserting that "there really are two Americas." 

"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 wrote.

Several other Democratic challengers have expressed public support for reparations, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Julián Castro.

"We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine," O'Rourke said. concluded. "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."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beto O'Rourke says he descended from slave owners, supports reparations