ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)



It is difficult to believe the Times’ contention that Michelle Obama

didn’t know she had had at least one white ancestor. Every black

person is aware of this part of their family history.


Photo left: Fraser Robinson III and his wife, Marian, with their children, Craig and Michelle, now the first lady



Michelle's Family Tree

By  Margaret Kimberley

BAR editor and senior columnist


Before her bomb dropping husband received a prize usually reserved for those waging peace, Michelle Robinson Obama and her family were the subject of much media scrutiny. For reasons known only to themselves, the New York Times felt compelled to study the first lady’s family tree [1].

The story about the Robinson family was replete with specious investigation methods and bizarre conclusions. There was nothing particularly noteworthy in its description of the genealogy of a black family with southern roots. The Times seemed caught up in a particularly powerful form of Obamamania which made them curious about the Robinsons, but not curious enough to examine how slavery affects this country to this very day.

It all seems to be a case of white people deciding that black people are ever so fascinating. The level of interest never extends to the conditions black people face on a daily basis in the 21st century, however. Those conditions stare even the most casual observer in the face, but are only investigated as opportunities to condemn and to blame black Americans as the source of any and all problems.

The Times determined that the most noteworthy Robinson ancestor was a woman named Melvinia Shields [2]. In the year 1850, when she was six years old, Melvinia’s slave holder listed her among his property to be bequeathed to a relative upon his death. She later gave birth to four children who were listed as mulatto in the 1870 census [3].

Megan Smolenyak, the genealogist hired by the Times, declared that Melvinia was “screaming to be found.” I’m sure all of the enslaved, who were bought, sold and willed as property cried out for recognition, but it is the birth of Melvinia’s children that seems to spark the most curiosity, but not for the reasons it should have. Slavery demanded the constant reproduction of human beings. The rape of slaves was useful not only for pleasure, but for business too.

But these obvious facts elude the writers at the great Gray Lady, who felt comfortable stating only that Melvinia was “coerced” into bearing a white man’s children. The delicacy obscures what should have been the salient point of any telling of slave history, that women were under the constant threat of sexual violence. The Times’ writers had only some degree of curiosity, and no willingness to give any meaningful analysis to their research. The article was an opportunity to delve into America’s greatest shame, and into the ongoing legacy of that shameful and criminal behavior into the 21st century.

The Times would probably be better off ignoring any future urge to learn any fascinating tidbits about the negro race. It is difficult to believe the Times’ contention that Michelle Obama didn’t know she had had at least one white ancestor. Every black person is aware of this part of their family history. The name or names are usually unknown, but their existence is never in doubt, despite what the Times says on the subject.

Melvinia’s oldest son, Dolphus Shields, is one of Michelle Obama’s direct ancestors. He and his mother are the only ones deemed worthy of such great scrutiny. To add further insult, Dolphus Shields’ life was rendered into nothing more than a simplistic “pull up by the bootstraps” story which usually does nothing more than let white people off the hook. If it can be said that an individual born into slavery ended up owning a home and a business, then America can’t be so bad after all.

It is all very “complex” so the Times says. Relationships between exploited slave women and their masters were “complex,” and so is the Robinson family tree. If there is anything complex about Michelle Obama’s family, it is in exactly the same way that most black families are. Some children survived slavery and or Jim Crow and managed to live productive lives despite the horrors of their beginnings. Some did not, but should not be judged by New York Times genealogists as wastrels who mysteriously fell by the way side.

Unfortunately, reaction to the story was predictable and useless. We are all one race, the human race. Race is a sociological construct. Michelle Obama’s family persevered and proved that other black people can too and are at fault if they don’t.

After the Nobel peace prize dust settles, the family story will reappear. Someone like Henry Louis Gates will find a way to make money and the “we are all one people” group will hold sway in public discourse. The story of millions of people toiling without pay for more than two hundred years, and the legacy it left behind will go unnoted by the Times and their ilk in the corporate media. It will all be turned into sentimental mush and Melvinia Shields may still be crying out for the recognition she ought to have received.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, .

Source: Black Agenda Report

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011


#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

*   *   *   *   *

Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *






posted 16 October 2009




Home   Obama 2008 Table

Related files: Why White America Perhaps Fears Michelle More Than Barack  / Obligation to Fight for the World as It Should Be (Michele Obama)