I put this politics because it could turn political real fast. What does Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton and others think now! Do they also have a cracker in the woodpile? 5 generations: Slavery to White House [SIZE=-1]Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor, The New York Times [/SIZE] WASHINGTON – In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes and cattle that he bequeathed to his heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl later valued at $475. She is described in his will simply as the "negro girl Melvinia." After his death, she was torn away from the people she knew and shipped to Georgia, where, as a teenager, she gave birth to a son fathered by a white man. In the annals of American slavery, this story would be unremarkable except for one thing: This union marked the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House. Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady. Viewed by many as a powerful symbol of black advancement, Obama grew up with only a vague sense of her ancestry, aides and relatives said. During the presidential campaign, the family learned about one paternal great-great-grandfather, a former slave from South Carolina, but the rest of Michelle Obama's roots remained a mystery. The newly discovered story of Obama's maternal ancestors – the slave mother, white father and their biracial son, Dolphus T. Shields – further connects the first African-American first lady to the history of slavery, tracing a five-generation journey from bondage to a front-row seat to the presidency. Obama and her family declined to comment for this article, aides said, in part because of the personal nature of the subject. The findings – uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times – substantiate what the first lady has called longstanding family rumors about a white forebear. While President Barack Obama's biracial background has drawn wide attention, his wife's pedigree, which includes American Indian strands, highlights the complicated history of racial intermingling that lingers in the bloodlines of many African-Americans. "She is representative of how we have evolved and who we are," said Edward Ball, a historian who discovered that he had black relatives – the descendants of his white slave-owning ancestors – when he researched his memoir, Slaves in the Family. "We are not separate tribes of Latinos and whites and blacks in America," Ball said. "We've all mingled, and we have done so for generations." The outlines of Obama's family history unfolded from 19th century probate records, yellowing marriage licenses, fading photographs and the recollections of elderly women who remember the family. Of the dozens of relatives she identified, Smolenyak said, it was the slave girl who seemed to call out most clearly. "Out of all Michelle's roots, it's Melvinia who is screaming to be found," she said. When her owner, David Patterson, died in 1852, Melvinia soon found herself on a 200-acre farm with new masters, Patterson's daughter and son-in law, Christianne and Henry Shields. It was a strange and unfamiliar world. In South Carolina, she had lived on an estate with 21 slaves. In Georgia, she was one of only three slaves on property that is now part of a neat subdivision in the town of Rex, near Atlanta. It is difficult to say who might have impregnated Melvinia, who gave birth to Dolphus around 1859, when she was perhaps as young as 15. At the time, Henry Shields was in his late 40s and had four sons ages 19 to 24, but other men may have spent time on the farm as well. "No one should be surprised anymore to hear about the number of rapes and the amount of sexual exploitation that took place under slavery; it was an everyday experience," said Jason Gillmer, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan University, who has researched liaisons between slave owners and slaves. "But we do find that some of these relationships can be very complex." In 1870, three of Melvinia's four children, including Dolphus, were listed on the census as mulatto. One was born four years after emancipation, a suggestion that the liaison that produced those children endured after slavery. She gave her children the Shields name, which may have hinted at their paternity or simply been the custom of former slaves taking their master's surnames. Sometime in her 30s or 40s, census records show, Melvinia broke away and managed to reunite with former slaves from her childhood on the Patterson estate: Mariah and Bolus Easley, who settled with Melvinia in Bartow Country, near the Alabama border. Dolphus married one of the Easleys' daughters, Alice, who is Michelle Obama's great-great-grandmother. Sometime before 1888, Dolphus and Alice Shields continued the migration, heading to Birmingham, a boomtown with a railroad, iron and steel mines, and factories that attracted former slaves and their children from across the South. Dolphus Shields was in his 30s and very light skinned – a church-going carpenter who could read, write and advance in an industrializing town. By 1900, he owned his own home, census records show. By 1911, he had opened his own carpentry and tool sharpening business. He and his first wife, Alice Easley Shields, split up, and she moved around, working as a seamstress and a maid. Dolphus Shields served as a rare link between the deeply divided black and white communities. His carpentry shop stood in the white section of town, and he mixed easily and often with whites. "They would come to his shop and sit and talk," said Bobbie Holt, 73, who was raised by Shields and his fourth wife, Lucy. Dolphus Shields believed race relations would improve. "It's going to come together one day," he often said, remembered Holt. By the time he died in 1950 at age 91, change was on the way. On June 9, 1950, the day that his obituary appeared on the front page of The Birmingham World, the black newspaper also ran a banner headline that read, "U.S. Court Bans Segregation in Diners and Higher Education." The Supreme Court had outlawed separate but equal accommodations on railway cars and in universities in Texas and Oklahoma. Up North, meanwhile, his grandson, a painter named Purnell Shields, Michelle Obama's grandfather, was positioning his family to seize the widening opportunities in Chicago. Holt, a retired nursing assistant, said Dolphus Shields came to her in a dream last month. She dug up his photograph, never guessing that she would soon learn that he was a great-great grandfather of the first lady. "I always looked up to him, but I would never have imagined something like this," Holt said. "Praise God, we've come a long way."