Diary

#KYSen: The Sins of the Great-Great-Grandfathers

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Amy McGrath speaks to supporters in Richmond, Ky. McGrath, a Marine combat aviator who narrowly lost a House race to an incumbent Republican in Kentucky, has set her sights on an even more formidable target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston,

With the revelations by NBC News and The Washington Post that two of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) great-great-grandfathers owned slaves, the credentialed media have been digging and digging, trying to find anything that they can in an attempt to smear a man who never knew his great-great-grandfathers and was born 77 years after slavery ended. From USAToday:

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

Sandy Mazza, USA TODAY Network | 6:00 a.m. ET July 14, 2019

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

USA Today even illustrated the article with a picture of a cotton field. Yeah, that isn’t inflammatory at all.

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.

So? Why is this important? Mentioning it would have only provided ammunition for the silliest of Republicans’ enemies, and I wouldn’t have mentioned it, either.

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.

And as a child, I lived in a segregated town, and attended a segregated elementary school. Thing is, as a child, I had no influence or control over that. The school was integrated as I began my sixth grade year.

The article continue to note that:

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.”

Interestingly enough, the Louisville Courier-Journal, which is owned by USA Today, printed the same story, but assigned it a far more negative headline and subheading:

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

Newly obtained records show that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s family benefited from slavery for generations, helping them build lasting wealth

And while the USA Today article included the link Mitch McConnell: Obama’s ancestors owned slaves, too what my (unfortunately late) best friend called the Curious-Journal chose to omit that from their website. The Courier-Journal is Kentucky’s primary newspaper — though it has gone way downhill from the 1980s, when it was the Commonwealth’s “newspaper of record” to a clone of the rag USA Today, with a few local interest and sports articles included — and the editors in Kentucky’s most liberal city don’t like Mr McConnell.

In 2014, the newspaper endorsed Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic nominee, asking voters to oust Senator McConnell.¹ There is exactly zero doubt that the editors will endorse Amy McGrath Henderson, or whomever the Democratic nominee happens to be, rather than Mr McConnell.

I cannot simply quote the entire article, but suffice it to say that it is a long paean to reparations. The author attempts to make the case that Senator McConnell opposes reparations for slavery because his ancestors owned slaves. Well, I oppose reparations, and it’s highly improbable that any of my ancestors owned slaves.² I do not believe that the sins of the fathers must be paid for by their children, or, in this case, their descendants four, five, six or more generations down the line.

Did slavery benefit some white families a century and a half, and more, in the past? Yup, sure did! Were blacks oppressed by slavery? Yup, sure were! But all of the slave owners are a century and more in their graves, and all of the slaves have gone to their eternal rewards; there’s nothing that can be done for any of them. We need to remember what happened, we need to not try to somehow cleanse our history, but the notions of reparations? Just silly stuff. And the idea that a politician in 2019 is somehow guilty of something because his great-great-grandfathers owned slaves? Utterly repugnant.
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¹ – Mr McConnell defeated Mrs Grimes 56.2% to 40.7%, despite the fact that the polls had previously showed the race closer than that. Mrs Grimes made several missteps during her campaign.
² – If any of my ancestors owned slaves, I am unaware of it. Given that my mother’s family were New Englanders, and my father’s family Portuguese immigrants living in Maui, it’s highly improbable that any of them owned slaves in the US, but, who knows what might have been the case more generations back in Europe?
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