Clayton County Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Eldrin Bell made his second trip to Kingston Thursday morning along with officials from Clayton County and the state of Georgia departments of economic development.
The Georgia connection first came to light in a New York Times October 2009 article linking Obama's great-great-great-grandmother Melvina Shields, also known as Mattie McMgruder, to her one-time home in the Clayton County city of Rex before moving to Kingston where she died in 1938 at the age of 100, being buried in the Queen's Chapel cemetery.
Last week's visit brought proposals from economic development officials for furthering the site's tourism potential. The next step would involve locating the grave site using a ground penetrating radar and erecting a commemorative obelisk.
"The state feels that this project could have a large impact just because of the relevance and who we are dealing with. We're dealing with the first African-American first lady having roots here in Georgia," said Tamara Patridge, business development manager for the Clayton County Office of Economic Development. "If there's something there that people can come to and have their picture taken beside, that will bring the people. Of course when people come, they spend money on food, on lodging, gas and other amenities in the area.
"One can only hope that this will become a huge draw but the state's goal is to prepare the city because they have to be ready for that response."
The graveside marker would be the culmination of a tourism trail leading from Rex to Kingston following the life of Shields. The last surviving Kingston resident to personally know Shields is 93-year-old Ruth Applin. During their visit, state representatives shared their proposals with Applin and asked for her participation in a Georgia Public Broadcast documentary. Nellie Applin, local historian and daughter-in-law of Ruth Applin, spoke for the family on the work being done to promote the area's history.
"We're excited about it. ... They said that my mother-in-law is like a jewel to be her age and know all the history that she does about all of this," Nellie Applin said. "The people from the state said that there are great possibilities for that site."
Ruth Applin shared her childhood home with Shields, and Applin's husband was the local gravedigger. She remembers the vicinity of Shields' grave although the rudimentary stone markers have long been lost. With her help, the site will be found and her own oral history will be preserved for future generations.
"There's sort of a sense of urgency, of course she's in great health and great spirits but because of her age, we'd like to get an oral account of this somehow," Patridge said. "The state is very interested in producing a documentary. It will sort of start the trail. ... These are the beginning steps to kind of get ready for the crowds that will come."