Michelle Obama Learns About Her Slave Ancestors, Herself and Her Country





GEORGETOWN, S.C. | The old plantation where Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather lived is tucked behind the tire stores and veterinary clinics of U.S. Highway 521. But its history and grounds have been meticulously preserved, down to the dikes that once controlled the flow of water into its expansive rice fields.

Not much is known about Jim Robinson, however, including how or when he came to Friendfield, as the property is still called. But records show he was born around 1850 and lived, at least until the Civil War, as a slave. His family believes that he remained a Friendfield worker all his life and that he was buried at the place, in an unmarked grave.

Until she reconnected with relatives here in January on a campaign trip, Obama did not know much about her ancestry, or even that Friendfield existed. As she was growing up in Chicago, her parents did not talk about the family's history, and the young Michelle Robinson didn't ask many questions.

But if her husband is elected president in November, he will not be the only one in the family making history. While Barack Obama's provenance -- his black Kenyan father, white Kansas-born mother and Hawaiian childhood -- has been celebrated as a uniquely American example of multicultural identity, Michelle Obama's family history -- from slavery to Reconstruction to the Great Migration north -- connects her to the essence of the African American experience.



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