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Slavery to the White House in 5 Generations

Posted: Jul 06, 2012

In her new book, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama, Rachel L. Swarns digs up the first lady's family roots. Throughout the meticulously researched tome, Swarns, a New York Times correspondent, uncovers a diverse history that Mrs. Obama hadn't even known herself -- including the stories of her great-great-great-grandmother Melvinia Shields, an enslaved girl who, at 8 years of age, was sent from South Carolina to toil in northern-Georgia fields; her biracial great-great-grandfather Dolphus Shields, who was born into slavery and worked as a carpenter after emancipation; and the Jumper family, mixed-race ancestors who lived free in Virginia decades before the Civil War.

Swarns spoke with The Root about what struck her most about the project, her extensive research process and what she hopes readers will take away from learning about a family that went from slavery to the White House in five generations.

The Root: As you started working on your book, did you approach the first lady and her immediate family about their participation?

Rachel L. Swarns: Mrs. Obama has a policy of not doing book interviews, so unfortunately I didn't get a chance to interview her. But I did interview members of her family -- an aunt, an uncle, a great-aunt, a great-uncle, first cousins and more distant cousins who were really helpful in illuminating the lives of some of the first lady's ancestors. I briefed her staff during the process, and I sent her and her staff books before publication. I don't know [their reaction], but I hope they find it fascinating.

Read the rest here.

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