Tracing Michelle Obama's Roots.

07gene-600 (1)

The Robinsons.

The New York Times conducted a study on Michelle Obama’s ancestry.

In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, marked the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Viewed by many as a powerful symbol of black advancement, Mrs. Obama grew up with only a vague sense of her ancestry, aides and relatives said. During the presidential campaign, the family learned about one paternal great-great-grandfather, a former slave from South Carolina, but the rest of Mrs. Obama’s roots were a mystery.

Now the more complete map of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors — including the slave mother, white father and their biracial son, Dolphus T. Shields — for the first time fully connects the first African-American first lady to the history of slavery, tracing their five-generation journey from bondage to a front-row seat to the presidency.

The findings — uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times — substantiate what Mrs. Obama has called longstanding family rumors about a white forebear.

The White House bit notwithstanding, this could be  like the family history of most of the black people in the States.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • i don’t like how this story is being framed as “look how far black people have come!” it completely washes over the systemic oppression of black americans by white people, ignores that this history is common to most black americans, and effectively erases that racism and oppression are not extinct.

  • ladyfresh

    i love the picture i want to squeeze her little cheeks

    and yes that sounds like part of my family history

  • Pingback: The First Lady’s Roots - The Pursuit of Harpyness()

  • Pingback: More on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Slave Roots | Barack Obama News Blog()

  • s. lux

    I concur FG. It made me very uncomfortable. No mention of current disparities and inequities. For some reason the dollar value really bothers me, not the amount but the mere mention.