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Clayton County close to naming school for Michelle Obama

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Michelle Obama could soon have a school named for her in the same county in which her great-great-great-grandmother once labored.

A proposal to rename South Clayton Elementary School in Clayton County for the former first lady fell a vote short on Monday at the south metro district’s board of education meeting. 

Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother Melvinia Shields was enslaved on a family farm in Rex, a tiny hamlet in Clayton County, in the years leading up to the civil war. Melvinia came to the area when she was six, far from her home in South Carolina, and labored at a time when life was hard and the work unremitting, Gene Hatfield, a retired history professor at Clayton State University, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2018.

Shields’ link to Obama was made through her biracial son Dolphus Shields by genealogists contracted by the New York Times.

“She actually does have some lineage to Clayton County,” board chairwoman Jessie Goree said at the meeting of Obama.

The eight members of the nine-member board who were in attendance at Monday’s virtual meeting were split on for whom they would name the school. Four chose Obama and four chose civil rights leader and longtime Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who died in July.

Board member Ophelia Burroughs, who did not attend the meeting, sent a text message voting for the former first lady.

“She would be the tie-breaker,” Goree said, holding up her phone to show the text message.

But Clem Doyle, the district’s attorney, said Burroughs would need to be present for her vote to count, forcing the board to table the selection until its next meeting.