The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
By Rachel L. Swarns
(Amistad, Hardcover, 9780061999864, 400pp.)
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Michelle Obama's family saga is a remarkable, quintessentially American story—a journey from slavery to the White House in five generations. Yet, until now, little has been reported on the First Lady's roots. Prodigiously researched, American Tapestry traces the complex and fascinating tale of Michelle Obama's ancestors, a history that the First Lady did not even know herself. Rachel L. Swarns, a correspondent for the New York Times, brings into focus the First Lady's black, white, and multiracial forebears, and reveals for the first time the identity of Mrs. Obama's white great-great-great-grandfather—a man who remained hidden in her lineage for more than a century.
American Tapestry illuminates the lives of the ordinary people in Mrs. Obama's family tree who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; who endured the agonies of slavery, the disappointment of Reconstruction, the displacement of the Great Migration, and the horrors of Jim Crow to build a better future for their children. Swarns even found a possible link to the Jewish Reform movement.
Though it is an intimate family history, American Tapestry is also the collective chronicle of our changing nation, a nation in which racial intermingling lingers in the bloodlines of countless citizens and slavery was the crucible through which many family lines—black, white, and Native American—were forged.
Epic in scope and beautifully rendered, this is a singularly inspiring story with resonance for us all.
Rachel L. Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995. She has written about domestic policy and national politics, reporting on immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in the Obama White House. She has also worked overseas for the New York Times, reporting from Russia, Cuba, and southern Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.
“Extraordinary. . . . A fascinating account of the First Lady’s family. . . . No political [book] has ever looked like this one.”
-New York Times Book Review
“Riveting. . . . A microcosm of this country’s story. . . . The real-life saga of struggle, survival, triumph and tragedy serves as an uplifting companion to Alex Haley’s Roots.”
“Richly detailed. . . . A lushly layered portrait of the nation itself. . . .Swarns weaves a narrative in which massive social changes (slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration) and the microscopic details of DNA play equally important roles.”
“Swarns has unearthed and disseminated crucial American history here. . . . A remarkable, only-in-America story that Swarns tells with care and thoughtfulness. . . . Her passion for the story is clear and striking. . . . This book is a worthy and significant endeavor.”
“Swarns paints a vivid, intriguing portrait of people whose struggles, losses, and triumphs speak volumes about the pull of family and the power of American endurance.”
-Los Angeles Times
“A meticulously researched and eloquently written real-life detective story.”
“A completely fascinating look at the complex ancestry of one family, African Americans, and all Americans.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“Tremendously moving. . . . Swarns provides numerous tales of heartbreak and achievement, many of which essentially make up the American story.”
“An engrossing book. . . . Swarns outlines the fascinating journeys taken by various ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama—the people who, across the generations, helped make her who she is today.”
“[A] meticulous, detailed investigation into Mrs. Obama’s family tree. . . . American Tapestry holds rewards.”
“Swarns discovers an interesting world that not only helps to define the First Lady’s personal background but is also an essential piece of the fabric that makes up America’s roots. . . . A great glimpse into America’s multicultural foundations.”
“[A] layered, scrupulously researched, and wrenching chronicle.”
“The First Family becomes ever more fascinating—and ever more representative of the nation as a whole—in Rachel Swarns’s terrific investigation into the roots of Michelle Obama. . . . This is a most compelling read and more evidence for our interconnectedness as a people.”
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University professor and host and executive producer of PBS's Finding Your Roots
“A grand, important book that shows how American bloodlines are rarely wholly black or purely white, neither one race nor another. Nowhere is that more true than in American Tapestry, an eloquent history of the First Lady’s family.”
-James McBride, author of the New York Times bestseller The Color of Water
“Rachel Swarns has not only excavated, with painstaking care, the family tree that is Michelle Obama’s, but, with great insight and beautiful prose, has revealed the complex, eye-opening, and disconcerting experiences that are America. This is a work of impressive historical imagination and deep cultural significance.”
-Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Nation under Our Feet
“Illuminating. . . . Unforgettable in its sweep and movingly told, American Tapestry has the power to reshape our understanding of the phrase ‘descended from slaves.’”
-Janny Scott, author of A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother
“In this tour de force of biological sleuthing, Rachel L. Swarns explodes simplistic notions of life and love in the Old South.. . . . Swarns has bestowed upon all Americans a revelatory understanding of our shared racial heritage.”
-Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan