GOP congressman lauds Michelle Obama's "shared heritage" in South Carolina, omits the part about slavery

South Carolina's Joe Wilson leaves out an inconvenient reality about a heritage that was far from "shared"

Published March 3, 2015 7:17PM (EST)

Joe Wilson was an obscure backbench congressman from South Carolina six years ago when he attained overnight notoriety after shouting "You lie!" at President Obama during the president's address on health care before a joint session of Congress. The outburst instantly transformed Wilson into a mascot for the Tea Party's Obama Derangement Syndrome. Half a decade later, to the extent that he's known outside his congressional district, Wilson is still remembered as the guy who lashed out at the president.

But the congressman wants constituents to know that he doesn't have it out for Obama. Appearing on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" Tuesday morning, Wilson pushed back against an Abbeville, SC caller who suggested that Wilson opposed Obama "because this is a black president."

“You indicated that I always oppose the President. That’s not true,” Wilson replied. “In fact, I’m really grateful that Michelle Obama’s family, with your Abbeville  heritage -- her heritage is Georgetown, South Carolina. So I’ve had wonderful times discussing with her our shared heritage of South Carolina.”

Yet while the first lady may indeed have ancestors who lived in the Palmetto State, she and Wilson hardly have a "shared" heritage, as The District Sentinel's Sam Knight points out:

What Wilson did not mention, in this discussion about bigotry, is that Michelle Obama’s South Carolina heritage is inextricably tied to the slave trade.

As The New York Times noted in 2009, Mrs. Obama’s great-great-great grandmother, Melvina Shields, was sold as a 6 year-old in 1850, from the South Carolina estate of her deceased master to a new owner in Georgia, “torn away from the people and places she knew.”

And in 2008, just weeks before Barack Obama won his first presidential election, The Washington Post detailed how Michelle Obama’s great-great grandfather was born into bondage in 1850, in Friendfield, S.C., just outside of Georgetown.

He stayed in the area after the Civil War. Some of his descendants, decades later, would move to Chicago, where Michelle was born and raised.

“A lot of times these stories get buried, because sometimes the pain of them makes it hard to want to remember,” she told The Post in 2008. “You’ve got to be able to acknowledge and understand the past and move on from it. You have to understand it, and I think a lot of us just don’t have an opportunity to understand it — but it’s there.”

This isn't the first time that Wilson has opined about his South Carolina "heritage," Knight notes. The Sons of Confederate Veterans member, a former aide to the onetime segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, has defended flying the Confederate flag on the South Carolina state capitol grounds by asserting that “the Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honorable.”

By Luke Brinker

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Joe Wilson Michelle Obama Race Racism Sam Knight Slavery South Carolina The District Sentinel