Slavery Ties: Bush's Long-Held 'Family Secret'
By Jennifer Millman
February 20, 2008
The Bush family owned about 30 slaves 175 years ago in Maryland, reports Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family, on TheRoot.com
President Bush is in the midst of a six-day tour of Africa, his second
visit to the continent, which includes stops in countries such as
Benin, Ghana and Liberia, places from which the United States received
hundreds of thousands of slaves. Smack in the middle of the trip fell
President's Day, which honors George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and
all other men who have served our country as president. Read about your five Black presidents
Will Bush take the opportunity to talk about his ancestors' ties to
slavery? Probably not, writes Ball, considering the matter is a
long-held "family secret," according to The Bush Tragedy, a new book by
Jacob Weisberg, which barely mentioned the Bush family's longstanding
involvement in the slave trade.
But in April 2007, the secrets started to leak out. A historian named
Robert Hughes discovered census records that revealed five householders
of the Walker family, related to Bush through his father's mother, were
slaveholding farmers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries,
Bush has talked about slavery on several occasions, including in a 2003
speech on Gorée Island, from which young West African children were
shipped to the United States to be enslaved. At the time, he called
slavery "one of the greatest crimes of history."
But Bush didn't mention that his ancestors--up to his father's
great-great-great grandparents, who owned two slaves--participated in
It's a touchy subject, one that often fuels defensiveness around the issue of reparations. Here's what the White Guy says white people need to know
about reparations. About 15 million white Americans today have
slave-owning ancestors, according to Ball, who adds that while many may
not talk about this family history, most of them know it exists.
It's unclear how much Bush's ties to slavery have influenced his
family's political dynasty. No records about the slaves they owned
survived, and the evidence available provides no indication the Bush
family owned slaves after 1838, which is when the Walker family
declared bankruptcy and moved to southern Illinois. How'd the family
get the money to start over? They most likely sold their slaves at an
auction, but as far as the records indicate, the money trails ends
there, writes Ball. But the history remains.
The Bush Tragedy quotes a letter from David Walker, one of the later
heads of the current Bush family and a self-proclaimed "believer in
eugenics and the 'unwritten law' of lynching," published in the St.
Louis Republic in 1914. Walker wrote that Blacks were "more insidious
than prostitution and 'all the other evils combined,'" reports Ball.
In 1930, President Bush's great-grandfather bought an old cotton
plantation in South Carolina for use as a vacation and hunting getaway
where the current president's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, would
play as a youth, pampered and waited on by "teams of Black cooks,
valets and drivers," according to Ball.
While Ball acknowledges that heirs of slave owners are not necessarily
responsible for their past, he says they should be accountable for it.
That includes President Bush.
But as the Bush political dynasty ends with one of the worst approval
ratings in presidential history amid an unsettled immigration melee,
disastrous war and tumultuous economy, no one is surprised he's left it
off his agenda while touring Africa.
How Many U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?
Of our first 18 U.S. presidents, 13 owned slaves, reports
UnderstandingPrejudice.org. Which president owned the most slaves?
Here's a list by number of slaves owned:
George Washington: 317
Thomas Jefferson: 237
Andrew Jackson: 200
Zachary Taylor: 145
James Madison: 118
James Moore: 75
John Tyler: 70
James Knox Polk: 24
William Harrison: 11
Andrew Johnson: 8
Ulysses S. Grant: 5
James Buchanan: 2
Martin Van Buren: 1
John Adams: 0
John Quincy Adams: 0
Millard Fillmore: 0
Franklin Pierce: 0
Abraham Lincoln: 0
Take this quiz on UnderstandingPrejudice.org
to find out who owned how many slaves and get detailed summaries of each president that include how the slaves were treated.