Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-shot-of-two-men-in-the-water-10678467/

A historic investigation released by Reuters this week uncovered the massive legacy
of slavery on the current U.S. lawmakers, executives, and judges. The genealogy of all
members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, and State governors, the most detailed of its
kind to date, shows that at least 118 of the officials examined have direct ancestors with
confirmed records of owning Black people.

The long-lasting economic and social consequences of America’s ‘original sin’ are
still poorly understood. It is not quite known how many U.S. citizens today can trace their
generational wealth and prestige to slaveowners. The 1860 census figures indicate that
roughly one in four households in the South held legalized slaves at the time. Foreign
immigration reached record highs later in the century. This likely means that the descendants
of these slaveowners now constitute a drastically smaller percentage of the population, even
in the former Confederacy.

Researchers at Reuters have now conducted the first thorough examination of the
ancestral roots of top U.S. officials. The investigation covered all the 536 sitting members of
the last national Congress, all 50 state governors, and the 9 justices of the Supreme Court.
This was done by scrolling through tens of thousands of pages of historical documents,
including family records, genealogies, wills, public tax and property files, birth and death
certificates, 19 th -century books and articles.

Reuters limited their investigation to only the direct forebearers of officials and
excluded distant family members. All cases where extant documentation could not be found

were excluded from the analysis, despite strong circumstantial clues in many cases. These
factors contribute to a great possibility of an undercount.

The results were stunning. Despite all the factors obfuscating records from 160 years
ago, at least one-fifth of the top U.S. officials examined can irrefutably trace their family
roots to slaveholders. This includes 28 of the 100 Senators, 11 of the 50 state governors (8 of
which in the South), and 2 of the 9 SCOTUS justices.

Republicans and conservatives represented a disproportionate number of the group:
28% of Republican congressmen had a slave owning ancestor, compared to only 8% of
Democrats. These prominently include Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Cotton.
The most notable Democrat on the list is Elizabeth Warren. Two Supreme Court Justices:
Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch also made it to the list.

President Joe Biden, along with all living former Presidents had direct ancestors with
a documented record of participation in the ‘peculiar institution’. Former President Barack
Obama had slave owning progenitors from his mother’s side, in whose family Obama was
raised. The only exception was the 45 th President Donald Trump, whose German family
arrived in the U.S. decades after the Civil War.

Personal and public consciousness about the enormous legacy of slavery has been
linked with support for progressive policies. Famous professor and TV host Henry Louis
Gates Jr. reacted to the findings. He said that the report was not “not another chapter in the
blame game. We do not inherit guilt for our ancestors’ actions.”

He said: “It’s just to say: Look at how closely linked we are to the institution of
slavery, and how it informed the lives of the ancestors of people who represent us in the
United States Congress today,” Gates said. “This is a learning opportunity for each

individual. It is also a learning opportunity for their constituency … and for the American
people as a whole.”

Anthony Tilghman

Anthony Tilghman, is an 3x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the...