Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he did not support reparations for descendants of slaves because we already “elected an African American president.”
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters during his weekly press conference.
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president,” he added.
McConnell made the remarks a day before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was scheduled to hold the first hearing on the issue in a decade “to examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice.
“I think we’re always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it — first of all it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate. … No, I don’t think reparations are a good idea,” McConnell continued.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he thinks reparations — giving compensation to descendants of slaves for the damage done by slavery and discriminatory laws — aren’t a good idea because “no one currently alive was responsible for that” https://t.co/OOlaTmSa0C pic.twitter.com/RJgIjiTDHE
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 18, 2019
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) reintroduced legislation that calls for a study on reparations.
The issue has become a topic of debate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Two of Washington, DC’s most famous buildings, the White House and the United States Capitol, were built in large part by enslaved African Americans.
According to the National Archives:
In 1791 Pierre L’Enfant, who planned the City of Washington, leased African American slaves from their masters to clear the sites for the “President’s House” and the Capitol. Once the land was cleared, Washington’s three-man Board of Commissioners, who oversaw the new city’s construction, tried to recruit laborers from Europe and America to build the two structures. Unable to find as many workers as they needed, the commissioners turned to African Americans slaves. Most slaves hauled building materials and sawed lumber, but others performed skilled labor such as carpentry, stonecutting, and bricklaying. A list of persons who were employed to build the Capitol and White House, between 1795 and 1800, contains 122 names labeled “Negro hire.”
Wage rolls preserved at the National Archives list the African Americans who worked on these projects as carpenters and brickmakers. One such roll is a 1795 “Carpenter’s Roll” for the President’s House. The document lists four slaves, “Tom, Peter, Ben, [and] Harry,” two of whom were slaves owned by James Hoban, the architect of the President’s House. The rolls record the number of days worked and the rate at which each person was paid. A slave’s wages were paid directly to the slave owner who signed the rolls as receipt of payment.
A second document is a 1795 promissory note from the commissioners to Jasper M. Jackson for the hire of his slave, “Negro Dick at the Capitol, from 1st April to 1st July 1795, 3 Months, at 5 Dollars per Month.” Little is known about the lives of the men who, like “Negro Dick,” built the Capitol. Most of them lived in shacks on the building site, where they received medical care, food, and occasionally, a small incentive payment above what was given to their masters.
According to an by analysis Slavery and the American Economy, “the results of the economic value of this free labor are, when inflated conservatively at 3% to 2006 dollars, a staggering value of 20.3 trillion dollars or to put this number in a more visual perspective; it amounts to $563,450 per African American currently living in the US.”