For any true family historian, this week’s stories regarding Michelle Obama’s lineage must catch the eye. While you will likely never see political discourse on this site, Mr. Obama’s (and by their union, Mrs. Obama’s) ascension to the presidency was a water-shed moment for the United States. As seemingly has become the custom, genealogists from all over began the search to detail (and source) the ancestry of these two contemporary American figures.
The interesting item for me in the story of one of Mrs. Obama Caucasian ancestors. Her 3rd Great Grandmother, Melvinia Shields, was a teenage girl recently relocated from the only family and home she’d ever know in South Carolina and moved to Georgia.
It is difficult to say who might have impregnated Melvinia, who gave birth to Dolphus around 1859, when she was perhaps as young as 15. At the time, Henry Shields was in his late 40s and had four sons ages 19 to 24, but other men may have spent time on the farm.
“No one should be surprised anymore to hear about the number of rapes and the amount of sexual exploitation that took place under slavery; it was an everyday experience, “ said Jason A. Gillmer, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan University, who has researched liaisons between slave owners and slaves. “But we do find that some of these relationships can be very complex.”
One hundred and fifty years later, Melvinia’s sacrifices produced unique fruit; a strong African American First Lady of the United States. What would Melvinia think of that outcome? If she could know what might come of her descendants, would she feel that the ends, in any way, justify the means? Would my female ancestors think in a similar way given my life and the lives of my children (I’m not the president, but my life is reasonably comfortable)? Chris Rock tried to sum it up during one of his concerts a few years back.
“If you’re black, you gotta look at America a little bit different. You gotta look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college … but molested you.”