Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke revealed over the weekend that both his family and the family of his wife, Amy, owned slaves.
O’Rourke wrote in a post on Medium that his paternal great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Cowan Jasper, owned two female slaves — Rose and Eliza — in the 1850s and that a maternal great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Williams, also likely owned slaves in the 1860s.
The former Texas congressmen learned of the unsavory family history after he recently procured documents detailing the property of his ancestors.
Meanwhile, documents also showed that one of Amy’s ancestors owned slaves and that another fought in the Civil War for the Confederate Army.
Why did O’Rourke publish the documents?
O’Rourke said he chose to publicize his family’s dark history to show that slavery has a “personal connection,” an admission he believes is necessary in order to have productive dialogue about racial injustice in America.
“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,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke’s admission comes amid national discussion about slavery and how Americans should reconcile that sin today.
Most Democrats, including those running for president, advocate reparations, while many Republicans disagree with such an approach, arguing that Americans today did not contribute to slavery, which was technically made unconstitutional — with one exception — with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
In addition to advocating reparations, O’Rourke said he would support economic, educational, health care, and criminal justice reform to reverse the damage of racial injustice.