Rep. Brett Guthrie, slavery, slave owners, ancestors

DEI Exec Learns Her Ancestors Were Enslaved By Congressman Brett Guthrie’s Ancestors

“Keep in touch with family,” read a letter written by Lacretia Johnson Flash’s late mother. “You may want to go back to Tennessee?”

Nearly 22 years later, Flash, senior vice president for DEI, community, campus culture, and climate at Berklee College of Music, discovered an intriguing story about her ancestry. She hails from an ambitious line of ancestors who had risen from slavery in middle Tennessee to become some of the first Black landowners in Perry County. But lo and behold, U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie of Kentucky is a direct descendant of the people who enslaved Flash’s ancestors.

Guthrie has been representing Kentucky’s 2nd congressional district since 2009 and is now a senior House Energy and Commerce Committee member.

Reuters examined connections between two of Guthrie’s ancestors to uncover the truth as part of a bigger initiative to trace the lineages of more than 600 of the country’s leading officeholders. Reporters found that Flash’s great-great-grandfather was enslaved by one of the congressman’s ancestors and the other her great-great-grandmother.

During a trip to Tennessee, Flash visited with Helen Craig Smith, her mother’s cousin. Smith is the author of Numbers: An Abridged Enumeration of the Peoples of Color of Perry County, Tennessee, 1865-2000, which detailed the history of nearly every Black resident in the county.

Flash’s ancestors, husband and wife Tapp Craig and Amy Guthrie, were the names that emerged out of hundreds of pages of historical records. They had assumed the surnames of their enslavers, farmers Andrew Craig and Andrew H. Guthrie. These men were considered among the wealthiest 2% of men in America, according to the 1860 census.

“There can be a sense of shame at privilege,” Flash told NBC News. But she doesn’t blame today’s Guthries for their ancestors’ choices.

“I don’t have a desire for anyone to feel guilty for actions of others in the past,” she added. “Conversations about race might leave a scar, but they will also help us heal.”

By 1871, after devoting years to tenant farming, Tapp and Amy had enough earnings for a down payment for about 90 acres along a tributary of the Tennessee River known as Lick Creek. A white neighbor previously owned the land best suited for harvesting timber.

Buying land was another opportunity for Tapp, Amy, and other Black families to help close the educational gap. According to Perry County Historical Society records fewer than half the county’s Black children went to school as of 1885. For whites, the number was 90%. In response, Tapp built a school that doubled as a church. The land was used not only to help Tapp and Amy advance but also to help others.

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