Michelle Obama's Ancestors: Fraser Robinson

This is the fifth in a series about the ancestry of the first lady. The previous segments can be found here:

It's providential for Michelle's sake that LaVaughn ever met Fraser C. Robinson, Jr. because he would have much preferred to never leave the South. "Bird of passage" is a term used to refer to an immigrant who never intended to remain in America. Rather, these were typically men who came here planning to earn enough money to go home and be the richest man in the village. While that might have an opportunistic tinge to it, underlying these intentions was simply a strong attachment to home. These were individuals who loved the place of their birth and the extended families that nurtured them there. Consequently, round trips were a key element of their lives. Though he was a migrant rather than an immigrant, this term applies to Fraser.

Georgetown, South Carolina was the center of his universe. Little wonder, given that the Robinsons had been living there for generations. Although it's doubtful he would have chosen to do so, he could have wandered down the road to see the slave cabins (still standing today) on the land where his grandfather Jim Robinson once toiled. But his father, Fraser Sr., a one-armed kiln operator, had taught himself to read and succeeded in carving out a decent living for his family.

The oldest of ten children born to Fraser and Rosella, Fraser Jr. was the proverbial big fish in a small pond where he came from. Widely regarded as a gifted student and speaker, he might have had greater opportunities in life had he not reached the brink of adulthood just as the Great Depression hit. He tried his best to make it in Georgetown working for a local lumber plant, but when it closed in 1932, his prospects diminished considerably. For Fraser, the Great Depression would become the reason for his participation in the Great Migration.

Though many from the Carolinas found themselves drawn up the East Coast to New York or Philadelphia, Fraser opted for Chicago for the company of fellow Georgetowners who made it their second home. He was particularly close with the Funnye family, headed by a widow who also hailed from Georgetown. Her four children joined the same Ben Billiken branch as the oldest son Fraser had upon marrying LaVaughn, and perhaps because the link to home meant so much to him, he helped ensure that the Funnyes actually became family when he introduced his kid sister Vernelle to the widow's youngest son, Capers. They married and had a son, Capers C. Funnye, Jr., who probably surprised his South Carolina elders when he grew up to become a well-known rabbi. But then again, Georgetown is home to the second oldest community of Jews in South Carolina with a presence extending back to at least the 1760s, and Fraser's own mother was born a Cohen with rumors of a Jewish ancestor or owner in her past.

For employment, Fraser worked for the WPA during the Depression and later enlisted for a three-year stint with the Army. After this, he settled into a job with the U.S. Postal Service, where he would remain for 30 years until his retirement in 1974.

At that point, after roughly four decades in Chicago, he finally returned to Georgetown to live out the remainder of his years. This longed-for homecoming for Fraser triggered the visits to South Carolina that Michelle would later recall punctuating her youth.

(to be continued)