[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/LIVING/07/16/michelle.obama.slaveroots/art.slavehome.cnn.jpg caption="This is a former slave house on Friendfield Plantation, where Michelle Obama's family has roots."]
Joe Johns | BIO and Justine Redman
In many places across the South you can walk in the footsteps of slaves, and if you understand the history, it is not a happy journey. The same is true at Friendfield Plantation outside Georgetown, South Carolina.
It's not exactly "Gone With the Wind," but what makes this overgrown 3,300 acres of marsh and pine trees stand out is this: The family of first lady Michelle Obama believes her great-great grandfather was held as a slave here and labored in the mosquito-infested rice fields.
It makes Friendfield Plantation a symbol of something more than servitude. It's the symbol of something that's never happened before: One important segment of an American family's journey from the humiliation of slavery to the very top of the nation's ruling class.
CNN recently was the first television network allowed to visit the plantation and shoot video. It's not a museum. It's just private land, still with shadows of its past.
Friendfield's most distinctive historical feature, perhaps, is the dirt road known as Slave Street.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/07/17/obama.slavery/art.obama.door.no.return.cnn.jpg caption="Obama points to the Door of No Return, which would shut before Africans were put on slave ships."]
President Obama slowly walked across the grounds of Cape Coast Castle, a slave outpost in Ghana where hundreds of thousands of Africans were shipped as human cargo to a life of bondage in the United States, South America and the Caribbean.
"You almost feel as if the walls can speak. You try to project yourself into these incredibly harrowing moments," Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
When the president reached the "Door of No Return," an arched gateway with thick doors that would shut behind African men, women and children before they were forced onto slave ships, Obama looked out over the Atlantic Ocean where waves crashed onto rocks. "Obviously there's a sense of what a profound sorrow must've been felt as people were hauled off into the great unknown," he said.
What does he tell his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, about slavery?
Editor's Note: An article in Thursday's New York Times details recent findings about Michelle Obama's genealogical roots. Genealogist Tony Burroughs previously wrote this post for us about the challenges associated with tracing our roots and how professionals are working to better understand our collective histories.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/16/art.burroughs.family.jpg caption="Burroughs Family Photo, Chattanooga, Tennessee 1889. Pictured standing, left to right: Morris Burroughs; Malachias Williams; UNK; Samuel P. Johnson. Seated in the front row are: Robert Elliott Burroughs (baby); Mary Jane Lillie Williams Burroughs; & Martha Williams."]
Professional Genealogist and Author
Many African Americans have longed to know their African roots, especially because our language and heritage have been destroyed by colonizers.
Historians have long documented that large numbers of Blacks were brought from different areas in Africa to what is now the United States. But in genealogy research, researchers have to prove the identity of specific individuals, and then document and prove relationships of them to their ancestors.
Genealogical proof is similar to that required in a probate court where relatives of the deceased have to be identified in order to distribute assets of the deceased. But the Board for Certification of Genealogists actually has a higher standard of proof for genealogy than a probate court.
There are several challenges to connect one’s ancestral genealogy back to Africa. Here’s why:
Editor's Note: African Americans moving back to Africa choose to relocated to Ghana more than any other country on the continent. Tonight on AC360°, we talk with African Americans who have moved back to Ghana to hear their stories.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/13/art.ac.obama.ghana.jpg caption="Anderson Cooper and President Obama walking around Cape Coast Castle."]
Anderson Cooper | BIO
Interviewing the President is always a difficult prospect. There are so many questions you want to ask, but you only have a limited amount of time.
We had been told we might get about 15 to 20 minutes sitting down with the President and then perhaps 10 minutes walking around Cape Coast Castle – a whitewashed fort through which enslaved Africans were sent to the New World.
We arrived in Ghana last week, one day before the President arrived with his family. We spent the day shooting a story about African Americans who visit Ghana to retrace their roots, and we also spent an hour or so walking through the Castle with members of the President's advance team.
It is a remarkable thing to see how much effort and organization goes into the President's movements. The Castle and the nearby hotel were full of secret service, embassy personnel, White House advance personnel, military backup and I'm sure more from other agencies as well.
Everything is timed to the minute: When the President will arrive, where he will go, etc. I read something on Drudgereport that said the crowds were not enthusiastic for the President's trip. I'm not sure where that impression came from.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta | BIO
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
Last week I was in Haiti, where I spent my time walking around with an adorable young gal named Deena. She was 15 years-old, and was born and raised in Haiti.
Within minutes of meeting her, there were things that were impossible not to notice. Her clothes were ragged and clearly too small for her. She hardly ever smiled, and if she did – it was fleeting and purse-lipped. She didn’t look me in the eyes, and in fact spent most of the time staring at the ground.
Her voice was weak, and, her body was frail. When I touched her back, I could feel a hollow space. As part of her introduction, I was told Deena was a Restavek, which in Creole means to “stay with.” Our guide Jean Robert Cadet was more blunt. “Make no mistake,” he said. “She is a child slave.”
Strong words, I thought. I wanted to see for myself and that is why I found myself in a shanty town outside Port au Prince, Haiti at 5 a.m. last Sunday. It was already well over 90 degrees and there was no breeze whatsoever. We were soaking in our shirts just standing there, which makes what I began to see that much harder to imagine.
Program Note: The first African-American President visited Ghana this past week and Anderson Cooper tagged along for the journey. Here are a few snapshots from the trip. For more on the President's historic visit, tune in to AC360° tonight 10p ET.
Anderson shooting a segment in Ghana.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/africa/07/11/obama.ghana/art.obamaghanacrowd.gi.jpg caption="Local dignitaries greet President Obama when he arrives in Ghana on Friday."]
Founder and Director, The Access Project
Assistant Professor in Public Heath, Columbia University
There was a democratic buzz in the air the last time I traveled to Ghana. Presidential elections were under way, and I was lucky to be traveling with an aspiring candidate, Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, the country’s minister of finance in the eighties and early-nineties. Everywhere we traveled, Ghanaians were debating the challenges facing their nation and reveling in their increasingly vibrant and stable democracy.
That strong embrace of democratic ideals has not been lost on the Obama administration. The U.S. President’s visit to Ghana this past weekend was a symbolic move that now resonates across the continent. Rather than giving in to the temptation of having a homecoming in Kenya, Obama chose the West African nation as his first stop. It’s a sign of smart continental politics with a clear message: this administration values democratic values above all else.
During the time I spent in Ghana, I could see the national growth that was occurring each and every day. The country looks and feels as if it’s booming. Restaurants and hotels are springing up and economic growth is steady. Although it is unlikely that the President took it in, Ghana also has a thriving club scene complete with some of the continent’s best music.