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Michelle Obama's Family History: Slave and White Ancestors

5 years ago
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First Lady Michelle Obama grew up knowing she had ancestors who were slaves. But until the New York Times put together her detailed family tree -- and collected the stories and documents relating to her forebears -- she had no idea who these people really were or their personal stories.
Obama's maternal great-great-great grandmother was a slave, and her great-great-great grandfather was a white man whose name is lost to history. The remarkable story of a family whose members rose from slavery to the White House is told through this in-depth look at Mrs. Obama's family tree. The report digs the deepest yet into her roots and for the first time tells an expansive story. Mrs. Obama knew she had slaves in her background, but did not know their stories. The New York Times report filled in the picture for her.

Mrs. Obama's East Wing did not want to comment on the piece by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor, headlined "First Lady's Roots Reveal Slavery's Tangled Legacy."

But at his daily briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was willing to offer some reaction from Mrs. Obama.

"I talked to the First Lady's spokespeople this morning," Gibbs said. "They simply told me that they -- that she was -- she enjoyed reading -- I don't believe she knew, or had known all of this, but enjoyed reading about her family history. That's all I got."

President Obama, in his famous speech on race, delivered on March 18, 2008 in Philadelphia -- as his campaign was threatened by the videotaped rants of his then-pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- talked about Mrs. Obama's ties to America's slave past.

"I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible," Obama said.

Kantor, appearing with Swarns on MSNBC's "Hardball" hosted by Chris Matthews, said that she and Swarns worked with the First Lady's office and passed along "some of the documents to Mrs. Obama ahead of time."

"They think this is fascinating," she said.


On Wednesday night, the Obama family was on the South Lawn with some 150 students and teachers for the first-ever White House star-gazing event, complete with astronauts and some 20 telescopes that were scattered on the lawn.

A little after 8 p.m., the First Couple -- she in a blue top and tan pants, he in a black windbreaker -- welcomed science adviser John Holdren and astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, and Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut.

After some star watching through a telescope, the president went inside the White House to get the kids. Sasha was in a plaid top and red pants and sneakers, Malia in sweater, black vest and jeans. According to the pool report, "As soon as the girls arrived, POTUS walked with Sasha and FLOTUS walked with Malia through the crowd of students" to an inflatable dome.

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