‘We were afraid to hope’: Michelle Obama reveals she didn’t expect Barack to win the presidency

Michelle Obama says she didn’t think her husband would win the presidency in 2008. ABC News
  • Michelle Obama revealed in an interview on “20/20” Sunday night that she didn’t believe her husband would win the 2008 presidential election.
  • She said she and other black people “were afraid to hope because it’s hard to believe that the country that oppressed you could one day be led by you.”
  • Like many black Americans, Obama traces her ancestry back to Africans who were brought to the US to work as slaves. Her great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave in 1850.

Michelle Obama did not have high hopes that her husband could win the White House when he first ran for the presidency in 2008.

During an interview on “20/20” Sunday night, Obama said she found it difficult to get her hopes up, given her family’s history under slavery and segregation.

“I think I did what a lot of black folks were doing,” she told Robin Roberts. “We were afraid to hope because it’s hard to believe that the country that oppressed you could one day be led by you.”

Obama continued: “My grandparents lived through segregation. My grandfather, his grandfather was a slave. So these memories were real, and they didn’t think the country was ready. So my attitude was a reflection of that scepticism.”

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While Barack Obama faced racism growing up black in the 1960s and ’70s, his father was an immigrant from Kenya and his ancestors were not slaves as his wife’s were (in fact, it was discovered that his white mother’s ancestors were likely slave owners.)

Like many African-Americans, Michelle Obama’s ancestry was much of a mystery before her husband started running for president. It was then that genealogy experts stepped in to fill in the blanks.

In addition to her paternal great-great-grandfather, who was born a slave ar0und 1850 and later became a free man after the end of the Civil War, The New York Times learned more about her maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, who had her first child with an unknown white man when she was 15.

According to the 1870 census, three of Melvinia’s four children were described as “mulatto,” with one being born four years after emancipation, suggesting that the relationship continued even after slavery.

Thanks to the Times article, Melvinia’s unmarked grave was discovered in a churchyard in Kingston, Georgia, and a new memorial was erected at the site.

Melvinia’s new tombstone reads:

“She was born a slave in South Carolina in 1844. At age 8 she was brought to the Shields Farm near what is now Rex, Clayton County, Georgia. In the late 19th century she moved to Kingston to be near her people. Her family would endure. A five-generation journey that began in oppression and would lead her descendant to become First Lady of the United State Michelle Obama. Melvinia’s story is one of hope.”

During a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Obama herself spoke about how surreal it was “to wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

During the speech, she thanked the “generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the string of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done” so that a black man could one day become president.

Obama’s new memoir “Becoming” is due out Tuesday.