Report: Kamala Harris’ ancestor owned slaves in Jamaica

July 10, 2019

Kamala Harris loves to bring up the fact that she’s the child of immigrants, but according to her father, the California Democrat’s family tree also contains an ancestor who owned slaves.

Harris’ father, Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris, wrote an ancestral summary of his family that included details about having been descended from a slave owner. The Washington Free Beacon also conducted some genealogical research and confirmed that an Irish ancestor of Harris indeed owned slaves in Jamaica.

The revelation is particularly awkward in a primary where racial justice and slavery reparations have featured prominently. Harris has benefited from a post-debate spike after attacking Joe Biden over his record on race in the first round of televised debates.

Slave-owning past

Citing a family history by Harris’s father, the Free Beacon reported that Harris is a descendant of Hamilton Brown, a white Irish slaveowner and the namesake of Brown’s Town in Jamaica. Harris’s father mentioned the connection in a parenthetical aside in a lengthy essay on his family heritage.

“My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town),” he wrote in a post for Jamaica Global.

The Free Beacon reviewed ancestry records and found that Hamilton Brown owned “scores” of slaves, mostly of African origin, though some were Creole. Brown also built the Anglican Church in Brown’s Town, where Mr. Harris was baptized.

Ironic history

The report on Harris’s ancestry comes amid a Democratic primary in which slavery reparations and racial justice have been big debate topics. Harris, who has Jamaican and Indian heritage, has emphasized immigrants’ rights and racial equality in her campaign platform.

The Democrat has drawn on her experiences as the child of immigrants of color to her political advantage. Harris shot up in the polls after striking a personal note in what many considered the highlight of the first round of primary debates. In what looked like a pre-planned attack, Harris grilled Biden over comments he made about positive working relationships with notorious segregationists and his past opposition to federal bussing to integrate schools, linking his background with her own recollections of growing up as a young person of color.

“That little girl was me,” Harris said of her experience in a school district that implemented bussing to integrate black and white students. Harris was criticized by some on the left for selling “That Little Girl Was Me” t-shirts after the debate to raise money for her campaign.

Harris was further criticized for backtracking on the issue of bussing, telling voters in Iowa that federal bussing should be an option, but not mandatory.

Harris’ father has accused her of pandering by stereotyping Jamaicans as “pot-smoking joy seeker[s]” in a giggly appearance on the hip-hop radio show The Breakfast Club earlier this year. The Democrat joked that she had obviously smoked marijuana in the past since “half” her family is Jamaican, prompting a stern rebuke from her father, who said her ancestors would be “turning in their grave” over the “identity politics” stunt.

Reparations loom large

Like Barack Obama, Harris, who has Jamaican and Indian heritage, has faced some skepticism on the left — and the right — over whether she is “black enough” to appeal to black voters. Some black activists say that Harris is trying to insert herself, so to speak, into the story of black Americans who have lived in America through generations of slavery. But pundits say that Harris’ attack on Biden has helped close a polling gap amid a surge in black support.

Like most Democrats, Harris has not staked out a clear position on slavery reparations but has paid lip service to the idea. When asked about the policy in February, Harris — who has been criticized for saying merely “we need to have a conversation” when asked for her take on a range of issues — was unclear.

“We have to be honest that people in this country do not start from the same place or have access to the same opportunities,” Harris said. “I’m serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.”

Despite the lack of clarity on what “reparations” would actually entail, the idea looms large in liberal punditry. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was scrutinized this week after NBC reported that the Republican’s ancestors owned slaves in what looked like an attempt to connect McConnell’s opposition to slavery reparations with his slave-holding ancestry.

McConnell fired back, noting that both he and former president Barack Obama opposed slavery reparations and are descendants of slaves — Obama on his mother’s side.

“You know, I find myself once again in the same position as President Obama,” McConnell said. “We both oppose reparations, and we both are the descendants of slaveholders.”

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.