Michelle Obama: A Distant Daughter of Slavery
Michelle Obama, born in 1964, will be America's next first lady. When she moves into the White House in January, a mansion built partially by slaves, "she will embark upon a life her great-great-grandfather, who was a slave, never could have envisioned for her."
Tiny wooden cabins line the dirt road once known as Slave Street as it winds through Friendfield Plantation.
More than 200 slaves lived in the whitewashed shacks in the early 1800s, and some of their descendants remained for more than 100 years after the Civil War. The last tenants abandoned the hovels about 30 years ago, and even they would have struggled to imagine a distant daughter of the plantation one day calling the White House home.
But a historical line can be drawn from these Low Country cabins to Michelle Obama, charting an American family's improbable journey through slavery, segregation, the civil-rights movement and a historic presidential election.
Their documented passage begins with Jim Robinson, Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather, who was born about 1850 and lived as a slave, at least until the Civil War, on the sprawling rice plantation. Records show he remained on the estate after the war, working as a sharecropper and living in the old slave quarters with his wife, Louiser, and their children. He could neither read nor write, according to the 1880 census.
Robinson would be the last illiterate branch of Michelle Obama's family tree.
Census records show each generation of Robinsons became more educated than the last, with Michelle Obama eventually earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Her older brother, Craig, also earned an Ivy League education.
Barack Obama's campaign hired genealogists to research the family's roots at the onset of his presidential bid, but aides largely have kept the findings secret. Genealogists at Lowcountry Africana, a research center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, scoured documents to put together a 120-page report, said project director Toni Carrier. She said the center signed a confidentiality agreement and is not allowed to disclose the findings publicly.
However, in his now-famous speech on race during the primary, Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya, stated he was "married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners."
Obama aides refused to discuss the report or allow Michelle Obama to be interviewed about her ancestry. She has said she knew little about her family tree before the campaign, but census reports, property records and other historical documents show her paternal ancestors bore witness to one of the most shameful chapters in U.S. history.
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States