From Slavery to the White House
Shields grew up a free man and moved to Birmingham, Ala., where he became a carpenter. In 1900, he owned a home and, by 1911, had his own business, establishing himself firmly in the middle class.
"You get the sense, through these documents, he was pulling himself up step by step, into economic stability, which was amazing, considering he was born a slave," Kantor said.
Bobbie Holt, his informally adopted daughter, described Shields as a kind, extremely devote Christian. He and his wife took her in as a sick child, when she was just 2 years old. Holt said Shields never spoke about his past and whether he may have been mixed race, but said he could easily pass for a white man.
"He was very light-skinned, beautiful hair, very fair skinned," Holt told ABC News. "You could almost mistake him for being white."
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