Reuters recently published a report linking hundreds of elected U.S. officials, two Supreme Court justices, and all living presidents except Donald Trump to ancestors who owned slaves. The article asserts that these familial connections suggest a deep-rooted connection between present-day America and its historical entanglement with slavery.
The investigation involved sifting through “tens of thousands of pieces of information contained in thousands of pages of documents,” which revealed familial ties to slaveholders. Reuters also notes that the exact number of Americans who have ancestors who owned slaves is unclear, but they estimate it’s in the millions.
Despite a quote from historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. stating this report is “not another chapter in the blame game” and “we do not inherit guilt for our ancestors’ actions,” the article infers that a collective guilt should be shared among Americans due to the country’s history of slavery. The notion that this investigation presents a “visceral link between today’s decision makers and slavery” recurs throughout the piece.
Additionally, the article connects America’s history of slavery to recent political issues such as the 2020 racial protests, President Joe Biden’s reversal of Trump’s executive order on certain government trainings, and an increased call for reparations by Democrats.
The report highlights that of the last Congress, 8% of Democrat members and 28% of Republican members have ties to slave-owning ancestors. Reuters asserts that the larger number of Republicans with such familial ties reflects the party’s stronghold in the South, where slavery was concentrated.
One part of the report presents a poll administered by Reuters, suggesting that a candidate’s ancestral links to slavery might affect voters’ choices. According to the survey, 23% of respondents said such familial ties would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. This percentage rose among Democrats (31%) and Black respondents (35%).
The article concludes by tying the knowledge of having slaveholding ancestors to increased support for race-based initiatives such as reparations and a congressional commission to formally apologize for slavery.