Allen-Craft (right) with, Gloria Williams
Allen-Craft (right) with, Gloria Williams, the only other African-American member of the Connecticut DAR, at their state conference in 2012. (Photo: Autier Allen-Craft)

This month, Autier Allen-Craft was elected to the position of regent in the Norwalk–Village Green chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in Connecticut. Allen-Craft, a black woman, says the organization has come a long way since its years of controversy related to racial exclusion.

Allen-Craft rose up the ranks in the organization, serving as vice regent of her Connecticut chapter two years ago before being elected to her current, high-level position. Just a few decades prior, she began the search into her family tree that would eventually lead her to membership in DAR.

“I attended Benedict College in South Carolina and I while I was there I lived with my maternal grandmother,” Allen-Craft told theGrio. “I was always interested in why my older ancestors looked they way they did. They were very fair. So I began to ask her questions about who her parents were, and who her grandparents were, and she would tell me as far back as she could remember.”

Before long, Allen-Craft’s curiosity led her to the South Carolina archives in Columbia.

An amazing ancestral discovery

After years of research, in about 1990, she stumbled upon records of her great-great grandfather — a white plantation owner, who was her third-great grandfather. She says after getting over the initial shock, she looked deeper into his ancestry and found that his grandfather, her fifth-great grandfather, had fought in the American Revolution. “He was one of the few plantation owners that would claim his offspring with a black woman,” she said of her great-great grandfather. “Because of that, I’ve been able to trace back as far as I have.”

According to historical record, blacks played a significant role the American Revolution. One of the first “martyrs” of the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a man of African Descent who was killed in the Boston Massacre. Black Minutemen fought at the battles of Lexington and Concord as early as April 1775. And when Rhode Island needed soldiers, the state legislature passed a law in 1778 that said “every able-bodied Negro, mulatto, or Indian man-slave” could fight. An estimated 200 men enlisted with the promise of freedom as a reward.

The need for diversity in heritage organizations

Marvin-Alonzo Greer, an educator and historian at the Atlanta History Center, understands the winding path experienced by Allen-Craft. As the descendant of a Civil War soldier and member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War – a fraternal order similar to DAR — he believes the historic exclusion of people of color from such organizations is a byproduct of systemic racism and the “whitewashing” of American history.

“There were a little more than 5,000 blacks that fought for the colonies in the American Revolution, and on the British side there were many more,” Greer told theGrio. He calls the election of Allen-Craft “significant” because of DAR’s history of racism — but says more should be done. “It’s a major step forward, but it hasn’t gone far enough. I think there should be more diversity in all of these organizations. They’re about teaching history and commemorating our ancestors. That’s important to all Americans.”