Beto O'Rourke Reveals His Ancestors Owned Slaves: We Must 'Repair the Damage Done'

The presidential hopeful wrote that learning his family history "increases the urgency" he has to enact change

Texas Democratic Convention, Fort Worth, USA - 22 Jun 2018
Photo: Richard W. Rodriguez/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Beto O’Rourke has revealed he and his wife are descended from slave owners, a discovery the Democrat says has further inspired his desire to end the injustice between “white America” and “black America” by way of significant policy change and reparations.

The presidential hopeful wrote in a post on Medium, Sunday, that he recently learned his paternal great-great-great-grandfather Andrew Cowan Jasper listed two women, Rose and Eliza, among his possessions in the 1850s.

O’Rourke also said his maternal great-great-great-grandfather likely owned slaves, too, and his wife Amy had an ancestor who also was a slave owner.

He wrote that the newfound knowledge has given him a personal connection to slavery’s legacy in the United States and that he recognizes the privileges he’s had in the years since.

“[My ancestors] 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,” he wrote, while acknowledging the opposite effect on people like Rose and Eliza, whose descendants have suffered continued repercussions in the subsequent years.

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Among those, O’Rourke wrote, were “economic exclusions and racism in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, convict leasing, voter suppression, red lining, predatory lending, and mass incarceration.”

“I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others. 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,” he wrote.

O’Rourke then listed several policy declarations, among them education, economic, healthcare, and criminal justice policies, including ending the drug war and expunging arrest records for nonviolent drug crimes.

The former Texas lawmaker also wrote that he would continue to support reparations, something fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker testified for on Capitol Hill in June in support of H.R. 40. H.R. 40 is a bill that would arrange a commission to help develop a proposal for slavery reparations.

“We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine,” O’Rourke wrote. “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.”

The politician’s message came days after an NBC News report revealed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has publicly opposed reparations, is the great-great-grandson of two slave owners.

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