First lady’s ancestral memorial controversy
By Han Yoon-ji
Plans to spend taxpayers’ money on a local memorial honoring an ancestor of Michelle Obama have caused controversy.
Citizens of Rex, Georgia, where the first lady’s ancestors lived, express mixed feelings about the plans. Many people said that they delighted about the connection between the White House and the small southern state town.
“We need things like that, especially in the Clayton County area,” said resident Audrey Batson.
According to reporter Rachel L. Swarns, Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother Melvinia Smith was brought to Rex as an eight-year-old slave girl. DNA tests and research indicate that farmer Henry Wells Shields’ son, Charles Marion Shields, was the father of Melvinia’s son Dolphus, Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather.
The historic town contains only a few structures, including a small building that once housed the bank, a blacksmith and a store.
Although dedication of the memorial for Obama’s ancestor is planned for next week, some residents are voicing complaints amidst the sluggish economy.
“My issue has to do with money,” resident David Clark remarked to Channel 2’s Eric Phillips. “It has nothing to do with the first lady or the memorial dedication.”
Clark also said that he was appalled when he noticed two items on the agenda regarding funding for the memorial dedication. The items asked commissioners to hire a gourmet caterer for the event and a company to manage valet parking.
“In this economic recession, it’s already hard to make a living,” said another resident. “Why are they wasting our precious money on excessive things?”
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell told Phillips that money for the vendors would come not from the general fund but from a special hotel/motel tax, designated for developing and marketing the county.
The Clayton County commission will vote on the plans tonight, and though Clark is against the items, he expects them to pass.