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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cue the wingnuts impugning the morality of Michelle Obama's ancestors
Posted by Jill | 6:04 AM
This story gave ME chills and made me go all weepy, I can't even imagine what it must be like to piece together your own history like this:

In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, represents the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Yesterday I wrote about how Germany doesn't flinch from the less-savory aspects of its past, while we insist on sweeping ours under the rug. Here we have a situation in which the First Lady of the United States is a reminder and descendant of the part of American history in which human beings thought they OWNED other human beings, and in which rape was a common occurrence, and the American discomfort with this reality seeps into the research:
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.”

In 1870, three of Melvinia’s four children, including Dolphus, were listed on the census as mulatto. One was born four years after emancipation, suggesting that the liaison that produced those children endured after slavery. She gave her children the Shields name, which may have hinted at their paternity or simply been the custom of former slaves taking their master’s surnames.

The relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson is the highest-profile indication that what began as rape, or at the very least, exploitation based on the idea of humans-as-chattel may evolve into something resembling genuine affection. But that doesn't change the fact that there is no such thing as consent when one person OWNS another under the prevailing law of the land. And the possibility of an "enduring relationship" doesn't mitigate one bit that the slave Melvinia was for all intents and purposes raped by a white man.

There's something profoundly moving, though, and "uniquely American" about the elegant, cool, self-possessed, smart, educated woman currently in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tracing her ancestry, now with faces and names, back to the single biggest blot on American history. It's too bad that in the environment of fear and loathing in which we now live, we've already lost sight of what the First Couple represents.

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Blogger Serr8d said...
So, with absolutely no evidence, you cry 'rape'?

What if it wasn't a rape? What if it was consensual, a good time for all, an afternoon delight? Or are you one of the ilk of feminists who think all sex is rape?

Cry in your mind about a history that you can only imagine. Invent a story line for people who've been dust for decades. You'll never, ever, really know anything for sure.

(Personally, I think the young gal got Friday-night loopy on some sort of home-brew fixins' and took on the whole township. There was prolly more mixed-up spermatoza cooking in that thang than Democrats at a Harry Reid fundraiser.)

Anonymous ShortWoman said...
Ok, use the head on top of your neck for a minute dude. Kid born to a 15 year old was most likely conceived when the mom was 14. In most states the age of consent is now somewhat higher than 14. Was she in fact capable of consenting to sexual congress? As a slave, was she given a choice? The odds of the father being younger than 18 are rather low. That means that by *modern* standards what happened is at best "statutory rape". Notice that I draw a distinction between modern times and 1859? Also worth noting that "exploitation" of chattel was common at the time, but having sex with the employees now would be sexual harassment.

But nice to see some actual research coming out of Texas Wesleyan University. Mostly, they produce fine music teachers and nurse anesthetists. Go Rams!

Blogger Rhode Island Rules said...
My hobby is genealogy and the further back we go the more muddled it becomes mainly due to lack of records. However, through evolution and DNA sampling it is becoming clearer that humans began life in Africa, therefore we all have "black" ancestors.

For my Xmas present this year I will be asking to participate in National Geographic Magazine migration project


This swab of my mitochondrial DNA will only enhance my genealogy research. I seek the truth.

Anonymous g00$e said...
Serr8d- Boy, is you nay sayin' thet the 'Bah-Ble ain't 'bout the truth 'cuz we ain't got no evidence of them long ago days?

Yuh IS, ain't ya Boy?

The Hammer O' Rahtch-Iss-Ness gonna come down on yer test-tackles somethin' fieeeerce. Boy.

Anonymous Tata said...
Jill, Serr8d has nothing to contribute to any conversation. Can we ban that ignorant motherfucker, please?

Blogger Serr8d said...
Tata, if by that you mean I'm not a mind-numbed lefty who sucks up at clones-only websites, banging the drum for idiots, then you're right.

Does you good to read some loyal opposition. If all you get is progressive horseshit, then you'll continue to look and sound just like a progressive horse.

Anonymous Tata said...
Right on cue: fool, you prove my point.