From slavery to White House: First Lady Michelle Obama
In Atlanta and within the family histories of 19th-century slave owners, the hunt has begun to seek the identity of a white man who was Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather.
Clues to the most enduring mystery of Obama family history have emerged in an investigation identifying one of the First Lady’s ancestors as Melvinia Shields, a girl born into slavery, bequeathed to a white family in Georgia and impregnated as a teenager by an unknown white man on a farm near Atlanta in the 1850s.
The breakthrough in piecing together a journey across five generations from the slave-holding South to the White House came with the discovery of a will written in 1850 by David Patterson, a South Carolina estate-owner. The document listed the “negro girl Melvinia” in an inventory of his property, along with nine other slaves and a miscellany of assets including two tablecloths, three pairs of curtains and a coffee mill. . .
The identity of Melvinia Shields and new information about her descendants provides the first concrete evidence for President Obama’s ringing declaration in his one major speech on race during last year’s campaign that he was “married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners”.
It will intensify public interest in the highly charged historical debate on miscegenation — the widespread practice of interracial sex — that has permeated American demography for centuries, even though it was illegal in some states until the 1960s.
Rather than hold on to the young slave — who died in 1938 without knowing who her parents were — Mrs Patterson sent her to live with relatives in Georgia. It was there, according to census records studied by The New York Times, that she gave birth to four children, at least one of them fathered by a white man who may have been the Pattersons’ son-in-law, one of his sons, or a visitor to their farm.
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