All Articles Tagged "Charles Shields"
No African American would be surprised to learn that he or she has white ancestors given the history of slave raping in this country. But most of us don’t get the chance to connect the dots and really learn who those ancestors were—or even their white descendants who are living today—but that’s what’s going on with a DNA project that has traced First Lady Michelle Obama’s relatives back to it’s interracial start in Northern Georgia.
The New York Times ran a story this weekend that uncovers Michelle Obama’s ancestry in a way that’s both unique and quite common for black people today. Here are the details in part:
The discovery of this unexpected family tie between the nation’s most prominent black woman and a white, silver-haired grandmother from the Atlanta suburbs underscores the entangled histories and racial intermingling that continue to bind countless American families more than 140 years after the Civil War.
The link was established through more than two years of research into Mrs. Obama’s roots, which included DNA tests of white and black relatives. Like many African-Americans, Mrs. Obama was aware that she had white ancestry, but knew little more.
Now, for the first time, the white forebears who have remained hidden in the first lady’s family tree can be identified. And her blood ties are not only to the dead. She has an entire constellation of white distant cousins who live in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas and beyond, who in turn are only now learning of their kinship to her….
The bloodlines of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Tribble extend back to a 200-acre farm that was not far from here. One of their common ancestors was Henry Wells Shields, Mrs. Tribble’s great-great-grandfather. He was a farmer and a family man who grew cotton, Indian corn and sweet potatoes. He owned Mrs. Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, who was about 8 years old when she arrived on his farm sometime around 1852.
The DNA tests and research indicate that one of his sons, Charles Marion Shields, is the likely father of Melvinia’s son Dolphus, who was born around 1860. Dolphus T. Shields [shown above] was the first lady’s maternal great-great-grandfather. His identity and that of his mother, Melvinia, were first reported in an article in The New York Times in 2009, which also indicated that he must have had a white father.
Melvinia was a teenager, perhaps around 15, when she gave birth to her biracial son. Charles was about 20.
In Clayton County, Ga., where the Shields family lived, only about a third of the heads of household owned human property, and masters typically labored alongside their slaves. Charles was a man of modest means — he would ultimately become a teacher — whose parents were only a generation or so removed from illiteracy.
Melvinia was not a privileged house slave like Sally. She was illiterate and no stranger to laboring in the fields.
What’s most interesting is the take one of the First Lady’s relatives has on this news. Citing the fact that Melvina bore several more biracial children, Aliene Shields, a descendant who lives in South Carolina, told the NYT:
“To me, it’s an obvious love story that was hard for the South to accept back then.”
That’s one sugar-coated way to look at it.
Michelle Obama and her mother and brother have declined to comment on the news, much like Melvina who is said to have never discussed what happened between her and Charles and the nature of their relationship. Some of the First Lady’s white ancestors, on the other hand, are struggling with the reality that their ancestor very likely raped Melvina, and possibly other women. They’re also hopeful for a chance to meet the FLOTUS one day, despite their touch connection. Joan Tribble,whose ancestors owned the first lady’s great-great-great-grandmother, told the Times:
“I can’t really change anything, but I can be open-minded to people and accept them and hope they’ll accept me.”
Check out a slideshow of Michelle Obama’s relatives and ancestors here.
What do you think about this connection?
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