Michelle Obama Family History
Michelle Obama, the former First Lady, was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on January 17th, 1964 to Frank and Marian Robinson in Chicago, Illinois.
Their first child Craig had been born two years earlier and they lived in a rented second floor apartment of a brick bungalow on the South Side of Chicago. Michelle described it as a conventional home – “the mother at home, the father works, you have dinner around the table.”
Both Craig and Michelle excelled at school and were accepted at Princeton University. Craig went on to play professional basketball, later coached, and then pursued a business career on Wall Street. Michelle took on law as a career, earning a degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. While working at a law firm in Chicago she met the young Barack Obama and they married in 1992.
Her life changed when Barack embarked on a political career. He was elected as the US Senator for Illinois in 2004 and ran for US President in 2008. Barack and Michelle were President and First Lady for two terms, from 2009 to 2016. Afterwards she has retained the affections of the American public and her 2018 book Becoming has been a best-seller.
There are two sides in Michelle Obama’s African American heritage – her father’s and her mother’s, They came together in 1960 when Fraser Robinson married Marian Shields in Chicago.
And there was a commonality on both sides as to what went before. The Robinsons left the South for Chicago in the 1930’s and the Shields a little earlier in the 1920’s. Before that was a life post-emancipation in South Carolina and Alabama. And before that, and casting its long shadow, was the pain and suffering that was slavery.
Among its many indignities was the shame that came from mixed relationships, those between a white master and a black slave.
It may have happened on the Robinson side. Some have said that Edmond Robinson, a white Irishman, may have been the father of the black Jim Robinson who was born a slave on the Friendfield plantation in 1850. It was much more clear-cut in the relationship of Charles Marion Shields and Melvinia Dosey, as recounted in Rachel Swarns’ 2012 book American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama.
Melvinia Dosey, born into slavery in South Carolina, had been sold to Henry Walls Shields at his farm in Georgia near Atlanta. Melvinia’s first son, Adolphus Shields, was born into slavery there around 1860. The father was Charles Marion Shields, the son of Melvinia’s master.
The Robinson Side
The Friendfield plantation, focusing on rice production, lay along the Sampit river near the seaport of Georgetown in South Carolina. Before the Civil War the African American slaves numbered 250 and they had developed their own distinct culture known as Gullah. This had creole African roots in its language, cuisine and culture, with adaptations to the region. Jim Robinson, born in 1850, grew up amidst this culture.
After the war and emancipation, his family believe that Jim stayed on as a sharecropper at the plantation for the rest of his life. He died in 1906 and was buried in an unmarked grave. He and his wife Louisa raised five children, including the first of the Fraser Robinsons.
His son Fraser Sr. had an arm amputated as a result of a boyhood injury. He worked in Georgetown as a shoemaker, as a newspaper salesman, and in a lumber mill. His relatively early death in 1936, at the age of fifty-two, was due to the onset of tuberculosis.
Fraser Jr had a much more robust and longer life, dying in 1996 at the age of eighty-four. As a young man he was a standout student and was known for his prowess as an orator. He moved to Chicago in his early twenties in the hope of finding better work. But the Great Depression was starting and his only opening was as a postal worker.
He may have missed the South. When he retired from work, he and his wife LaVaughn moved back to South Carolina and they built their own home in the Low Country there.
Fraser Jr in fact outlived his son Fraser III, Michelle’s father, who died earlier in 1991. He had worked swing shifts for the city of Chicago, tending the boilers at a water-filtration plant.
His son Craig, Michelle’s older brother, said: “My father was not college-educated, but was full of integrity, the gold standard of husbands, and he was a hardworking man who raised two kids when he had multiple sclerosis.”
The Shields Side
Charles Shields was white and had three wives. He also had a black mistress Melvinia and was the father of her son Dolphus, born at his family’s farm in Georgia in 1859. She and Charles may have had a continuing relationship as she had two more mixed-race children and lived near him after emancipation, taking his surname.
As was often the case, Melvinia did not talk to relatives about Dolphus’s father. Dolphus moved with his wife Alice in the 1880’s from Spartanburg, South Carolina to Birmingham, Alabama where he established his own carpentry and tool sharpening business. He and Alice later separated and Dolphus went on to marry three more times. He lived in Alabama to the ripe old age of ninety-one, dying in 1950.
Robert, his son by Alice, was less fortunate. He worked as a painter and on the railroad in Birmingham, but died in 1918 aged only thirty-three. His two children, Robbie and Purnell, left Birmingham for Chicago in the 1920’s. Purnell was a house painter and carpenter by trade and he and his wife Rebecca raised seven children in Chicago, five girls followed by two boys.
Marian Shields, born in 1937, was their fourth child. She married Fraser Robinson in 1960 and they lived on the South Side of Chicago in a rented second floor apartment of a brick bungalow owned by her aunt Robbie and husband Terry. She continued to live there after her husband died in 1991. When her daughter Michelle became First Lady in the White House in 2008, Marian was known there as First Grandma.
Michelle Obama nee Robinson’s Family Tree
- Michelle Obama’s Paternal Line
- Jim Robinson (1850-1906) m. Louisa Brinckley (1859-1889)
- – Gabriel Robinson (b. 1876) m. Netta
- – Martha Robinson (b. 1877)
- – Stephen Robinson (b. 1878)
- – Fraser Robinson (1884-1936)
- – Hugh Robinson (1891-1936) m. Emily Weathers
- Fraser Robinson Sr m. Rosella Cohen (1889-1952)
- – Fraser Robinson (1912-1996)
- – Ernestine Robinson (1916-1985) m. Mr. Jones
- – Thomas Robinson (1928-1996) m. Horolyn Siau
- – Verdelle Robinson (1930-2000) m. Capers Funnye
- – Zenobia Robinson (1933-1997) m. Julius Tharpe
- Fraser Robinson Jr m. LaVaughn Delores Johnson (1915-2002) in Chicago in 1934
- – Fraser Robinson (1935-1991)
- – Francesca Robinson m. Mr. Gray
- Fraser Robinson III m. Marian Shields (b. 1937) in Chicago in 1960
- – Craig Robinson (b. 1962)
- – Michelle Robinson (b. 1964)
- Michelle Robinson m. Barack Obama in Chicago in 1992
- – Malia Obama (b. 1998)
- – Sasha Obama (b. 2001)
- Michelle Obama’s Maternal Line
- Charles Shields (1839-1916) and Melvinia Dosey (b. 1844) in Georgia and South Carolina
- – Adolphus (Dolphus) Shields (1859-1950)
- – Jane Shields (b. 1863)
- – Talis Shields (1868-1905) m. Parthenia Woffol
- Adolphus (Dolphus) Shields (1859-1950) m. Alice Easley (1865-1915) in Georgia in 1880 (separated); rem. Mattie Hallie (1873-1901) in Alabama in 1893
- – Willie Shields (1882-1962) m. Fannie
- – Pearl Shields (b. 1883) m. Mr. Lewis
- – Robert Shields (1885-1918)
- – Fannie Shields (1888-1913)
- – Sylvester Shields (b. 1893)
- – Charlie Shields (b. 1896)
- – Eva Shields (b. 1898)
- Robert Lee Shields m. Anna Lawson (1887-1975) in Alabama in 1906
- – Robbie Lee Shields (1908-1983) m. M.V. Terry
- – Purnell Shields (1910-1983)
- Purnell Shields m. Rebecca Jumper (1909-1988) in Chicago in 1929
- – Carolyn Shields (1930-1990)
- – Adrienne Shields (1934-2006)
- – Robbie Shields (b. 1935)
- – Marian Shields (b. 1937)
- Marian Shields m. Fraser Robinson III (1935-1991) in Chicago in 1960
- – Craig Robinson (b. 1962)
- – Michelle Robinson (b. 1964)
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