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U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, on May 2, 2023.

Louisiana's U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has slave connections. So does U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow are linked to slavery, too.

So is Gov. John Bel Edwards.

All are descendants of enslavers, and their families became wealthy.

Reuters recently published a story that included Kennedy's family connection to the slave business. He's one of three federal lawmakers featured in the news organization's latest installment of its "Slavery's Descendants" series.

Reuters found that more than 100 prominent U.S. government officials have ancestors who owned enslaved people. 

Some of the names will surprise you.

In a Dec. 13 story, Reuters reported that Kennedy and U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Arkansas, and Dina Titus, D-Nevada, have ancestors who lost much of their wealth when slavery was abolished — but later recovered that wealth and passed it along.

Kennedy's family expanded its wealth via inheritance and marriage. His great-great-great-grandfather enslaved 120 people on Concordia Parish land worth about $57 million today. There was other land, and more enslaved people as well.

When slavery ended, Kennedy's family recovered its lost fortune by leasing farmland to formerly enslaved sharecroppers who found it difficult, if not impossible, to get out of debt.

"Reuters found that a fifth of the U.S. political elite — congressional members, living presidents, Supreme Court justices and governors — are direct descendants of slaveholders in America," the news agency reported.

Some of the richest families are those of Kennedy, Hill and Titus. "Each had a slaveholding ancestor who was among the wealthiest 1% of Americans in 1860, Reuters found." But, Reuters reported, "By 1870, each of those forebears had lost between 60% and 90% of their wealth."

Valuable Kennedy land in Concordia and Catahoula parishes have a Neely connection. The senator's middle name is Neely. His mother's estate included hundreds of acres in the two central Louisiana parishes. Kennedy inherited that land.

According to Reuters' research of public financial disclosure documents and real estate records, Kennedy's net worth is between $8.1 million and $22.6 million. Not bad for someone who didn't work the land or oversee the Black people who did.

To his credit, Kennedy has described slavery as "reprehensible."

I wanted to know what Kennedy had to say about the Reuters report, but I didn't get a response when I reached out to his office on Dec. 14.

Such wealth doesn't mean Kennedy and others have to cut themselves off from the riches passed down to them from an immoral, nasty business. But it's important for us to know more about this part of our history and who's connected to it.

Reuters also developed a database of some of our most prominent officials so slave connections could be researched easily.

Gov. Edwards' ancestor Daniel Edwards enslaved 57 people five generations ago. Graves' ancestor Edmond Patin enslaved four people six generations ago. Cassidy's ancestor Pebles Hasty enslaved four people five generations ago. Letlow's ancestor William N. Barnhill enslaved two people six generations ago. 

New Orleans-born U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's ancestor Joel J. Coney enslaved 21 people six generations ago.

If you're surprised that Democratic Gov. Edwards has a slaveholding ancestor, brace yourself.

Former President Barack Obama's ancestor George W. Overall enslaved two people six generations ago. Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter's ancestor James W. Carter enslaved 54 people four generations ago.

You don't have to disagree with someone politically to consider the actions of their ancestors cruel and immoral. I agreed with Kennedy when he said in 2019 that families who benefitted from slavery shouldn't be individually responsible today for things that happened 150 years ago.

Still, I think those families have a moral obligation to consider wealth sharing with those whose ancestors didn't reap the benefits of their labor.

The government also bears responsibility for fostering such a system. That's where reparations come in.

We can't change history. We can impact our shared future.

Kennedy, Cassidy, Edwards, Graves, and Letlow — as well as Carter, Obama and others — should consider how their choices can make our society more equitable. It needn't mean giving away their wealth.

Expanding Medicaid, as Gov. Edwards did in 2016, allowed more people with limited incomes access to health care.

Providing prenatal and infant care for mothers would save the lives of countless mothers and infants. Fully funding K-12 education for all is expected, but we should insist on more equitable schooling through college. 

There are many ways to turn bad situations into good outcomes — when we evolve and commit to doing the right thing.

Email Will Sutton at, or follow him on Twitter, @willsutton.