Feb. 14, 2022
When The Washington Post published the first list of members of Congress who were slaveowners last month, the article included a call to action: Help us complete the database.
Ruette Watson was among dozens of readers who responded with searing evidence of enslavement. The outpouring included wills handwritten in the 19th century; birth certificates of babies born into slavery on congressmen’s plantations; newspaper ads placed by senators or representatives seeking the return of Black people who fled captivity; letters and book excerpts and journal articles. And in the case of Watson, an oral history project focused on Black women that included a 1977 interview with her remarkable grandmother, Esther Mae Prentiss Scott.
Thanks to Watson and scores of otheramateur and professional researchers — who emailed from as far away as China and France and ranged from high school students to presidential historians — The Post’s tally of slaveholders who once served in Congress has grown from 1,715 to 1,795.
The list of congressmen still left to research remains long as well — it shrank from 677 names to 587. In other words: You too can help.