The Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization whose members must prove they are related to someone who aided the rebels in 1776, is perhaps best known among African Americans for barring world-famous black contralto Marian Anderson from performing at Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall (a move prompting then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to renounce her membership).
But now its new Queens, N.Y., chapter not only has five black members out of 13 — it's also the first in the organization's nearly 122-year history to be started by a black woman: Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly. This Fourth of July holiday, it's a story about progress that shows America really does improve with every birthday. The New York Times reports:
Kelly traces her origins to the relationship between a slaveholder and a slave, who appear to have considered themselves married, and her new position is part of a remarkable journey for both her family and the organization.
"My parents understood that they were Americans and that they were a real important part of the American story," said Dr. Cousins, who, like the other members, is a passionate student of genealogy. Her Revolutionary War ancestor was a free man of mixed race. "Their whole thing was that segregation is unacceptable," she said of her parents. For her, she said, "de facto segregation was unacceptable."
Racism and the vicissitudes of history have long kept the number of minorities in the D.A.R. low. Only about 5,000 of the nearly 400,000 American soldiers in the Revolution were black, said Eric Grundset, director of the organization's library. Some were freed slaves who joined voluntarily, others slaves who bartered their service against promises of earning their freedom (which were often reneged on), and others sent to fight in place of the men who owned them.
"To the best of my knowledge, we have never had both an African-American charter regent as well as this percentage of members," said Denise Doring VanBuren, the organization's New York regent, who presides over the 7,000 members in the state.
Read more at the New York Times.