American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarms :The story of Michelle Obama’s Ancestry


Photograph of Michelle Obama's paternal line g...

Photograph of Michelle Obama’s paternal line great-grandfather, Fraser Robinson, Sr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarns, is the story of First Lady, Michelle Obama’s ancestry. If you’re looking for a story about the First Lady’s life, you won’t find it in this book. What you will find is her family tree, and fascinating stories about her relatives.

The author, a New York Times reporter, did extensive research before writing this book. She used census records, photographs, oral histories, and interviews with many of Mrs. Obama’s relatives.

A genealogist, Megan Smolenyak had discovered a connection between a white slave owner, Henry Shields and Mrs. Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother, Melvina. Together they had a son, Dolphus. The author uncovered a funeral program of the son, Dolphus, and a photograph.

Swarns collaborated on an article about this discovery in the New York Times, and did further historical research to write this book.

The author follows four families in the South who eventually migrate to the North. From these families, comes Mrs. Obama’s great grandparents
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A History Lesson

This is not an easy book to read. There are at least 30 characters to keep track of. Sometimes, you have to go back and reread their connections to each other, but if you persevere you uncover a fascinating story.

The book is in Three parts: Part I —Migration [to the North], Part II—The Demise of Reconstructions and the Rise of Jim Crow, Part III—Slavery and Emancipation.

Not only is it Mrs. Obama’s story, but the story of black people after the Civil war to the present day. Highlights include: black migration to the North, Reconstruction, sexual exploitation, lynchings, people being discouraged from voting, segregation, and passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1963. White and black people intermingle throughout the book.

The oral history was handed down in bits and pieces. Former slaves wanted to put the past behind them. The slavery experience was so painful and shameful that the first generation of freed slaves didn’t want to talk too much about it with their children.

Interesting characters

The author starts out with, Phoebe Moten Johnson, Mrs. Obama’s paternal great grandmother. She decides to escape her dull farm life, in Villa Ridge, Illinois, and gets on a train to seek her fortune. She ends up traveling to four different cities before she ends up in Chicago.

To tie the stories together, there is some speculation on the author’s part. This is about Phoebe:” “Swarns admits that “[n]one alive today knows the precise pace or number of stops that [Phoebe] made on her journey. There are gaps in her story, countless unknowns. …”

There are many other fascinating characters in this saga: Fraser Robinson, Sr., a man who accomplishes a lot even though he loses his arm after a tree falls on him when he’s a child. For a time, he moves in with a white family, friends of his father, and watches as black people lose rights they were granted after the Civil War.

Mrs. Obama’s relatives, like many African-Americans, migrated from the South to the North because there were more opportunities. They did a variety of jobs including: carpentry, coal mining, church ministry, household helpers, and railroad workers.

The author quotes Mrs. Obama’s aunt, Francesca Gray who states that in the black version of the American dream “ you dream a little bit at a time.” It is about black Americans striving toward the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and property.

I would recommend this book because it gives an insightful look at what the black experience may have felt like after the Civil War to the present day. We learn how the American dream was accomplished by people at a clear disadvantage. Mrs. Obama’s family are the main characters in this book, but they represent the black experience in America for the past 150 years.

You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and on various websites.

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Ted Turner on Piers Morgan: A few good nuggets from the interview


Ted Turner with ex-wife Jane Fonda, 1992 Deuts...

Ted Turner with ex-wife Jane Fonda, 1992 Deutsch: Ted Turner mit seiner damaligen Frau Jane Fonda, 1992 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ted Turner was on Piers Morgan.  In case you don’t know who he is, one of his accomplishments was founding CNN.  He was later fired.  Although he lost a fortune, he is still rich.

This guy is weird, but seems to have good intentions. What negative things can you say about someone who wants to get rid of nuclear bombs and clean up the environment. It sure would make me happy to get rid of nuclear bombs. I’ve been worrying about them most of my life.

Turner donated a billion dollars to the UN?  I’m not sure about trusting in the United Nations to solve the world’s problems. They don’t seem exactly fair most of the time.   They are helping with his pet project, helping out with ridding the world of malaria.

He wanted CNN to be the The New York Times of news. He also doesn’t like the conflict  between parties. I wish he could figure out how to stop that. Doesn’t seem likely to me

Even with all his money he’s had to give up a lot of his favorite foods like potatoes, dairy, and alcohol because he’s getting older, and his doctors are checking out his allergies. Not even rich guys are immune from getting old, fat, and sick.

He looked like he was about to cry when he talked about losing Jane Fonda. He’s replaced her with 4 girlfriends.  I guess that says a lot about old Jane.

He also said that the US has “too many enemies, and should work on being more popular.” He makes it sound like we’re all in high school. Maybe it’s more complicated than that?

When Bronson asked him what he’s most proud of he said, “my 5 children are all doing well.” I surely can relate to that.

One of the things he said that I liked was, ‘Winners never Quit,’  and ‘Quitters never win.’ I’m sure he didn’t think that one up.

The quote he wants to put on his headstone I really liked “I have nothing more to say.” Maybe I’ll borrow that one.

Any comments? Did you see the interview? What did you think of him? Did he seem naive to you or just optimistic?