Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke Reveals His Ancestors Were Slaveholders

Beto O’Rourke, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, revealed that his ancestors, as well as his wife’s ancestors, were enslavers. The Texas Democrat said that he benefits from a system that his ancestors built to favor themselves over others.

“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,” he wrote in a post published on Medium.

O’Rourke wrote that he recently received documents that showed he and his wife’s ancestors had enslaved others, including two women named Rose and Eliza. His paternal great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Cowan Jasper, enslaved the two women in the 1850s.

He added that his maternal great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Williams, “most likely” enslaved people in the 1860s. He noted that it was uncertain that the Frederick Williams who is his ancestor and the one that enslaved people were the same person. At least two of O’Rourke’s maternal ancestors joined the Confederate Army as well.

Meanwhile, his wife Amy O’Rourke’s ancestor enslaved people and another was a member of the Confederate Army.

O’Rourke wrote that the enslavement of human beings gave his ancestors advantages that their descendants later received. Meanwhile, misfortune was passed down the generations from Rose and Eliza to their descendants.

“Rose and Eliza were denied their freedom and the benefits that their labor produced; they and their children were then denied their civil rights after the end of the Reconstruction; and their descendants endured open terrorism, economic exclusion and racism in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, convict leasing, voter suppression, red lining, predatory lending, and mass incarceration,” O’Rourke said.

“I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others,” he 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 published these revelations shortly before The Guardian posted a report detailing the ancestries of the presidential hopeful and his wife. The former Texas congressman told the British publication that he and his wife knew “nothing” of their ancestors being enslavers and that the news troubled them.

“Amy and I sat down and talked through this,” he told The Guardian. “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 said that following the revelation, he will continue to support reparations for slavery. He vowed “significant changes” to education and economic policies, healthcare, and criminal justice. O’Rourke did not explicitly commit to monetary reparations for the descendants of enslaved people, ABC News noted.

“We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine,” he wrote on Medium. “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.”

According to The Guardian, nearly 2 million white people in the antebellum South enslaved an estimated 4 million people. The descendants of enslavers number in “the tens of millions, encompassing people living throughout America, with political leanings that span the spectrum from right to left.”

NBC News recently revealed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ancestors were also enslavers but said he was against reparations for the descendants of enslaved people because no one “currently alive was responsible for that.”

“We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, by electing an African American president,” he said.

The issue of reparations is also getting a lot of attention among Democratic presidential candidates. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have acknowledged the need for a conversation around reparations, while Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a reparations commission bill in the Senate.

A majority of Black Americans have consistently supported reparations. A 2014 YouGov online survey found six in 10 Black Americans think the government should give cash payments, education, and job training programs to the descendants of enslaved people. In 2016, a Marist poll revealed 58 percent of Black people supported reparations.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.