Founded in 1890, DAR is one of the nation’s foremost service organizations dedicated to “promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children,” according to its mission statement.
DAR membership consists of women who can trace their lineage back to patriots in the war for American independence. Over the years, its members have included Susan B. Anthony, former U.S. first ladies Caroline Scott Harrison and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.
A history of racial issues
DAR has had a troubled history in terms of race relations, however. In 1936 famed opera singer Marian Anderson attempted to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C, which is owned by DAR. She was refused due to a “white performers only” policy (which no longer exists), an action that subsequently led to then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigning her membership in the organization and inviting Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The moment was a defining one in the fight against racial segregation that would be echoed nearly 30 years later when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech from that spot.
According to news reports, the organization admitted its first black member, Karen Batchelor, in 1977, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the group amended its bylaws to explicitly state a policy of nondiscrimination. This occurred after a settlement with an African-American D.C. woman, who a local chapter had initially refused to admit.
New beginnings for DAR
“At first, I had some of the same expectations of the organization that many may have,” Allen-Craft told theGrio about joining. “I was anxious and apprehensive in my first meeting. I knew the Marian Anderson story and didn’t know how I’d be received, but from the very first meeting that I attended, I felt welcomed.”
Times have certainly changed.
There is no way to know exactly how many of DAR’s more than 919,000 past and current members are black. Applications for membership do not have a check box for race, and the organization does not keep track of the race of its members. Yet, it is clear the organization has made some significant diversity gains.
Last year, for instance, The New York Times profiled the establishment of a new chapter in Queens, New York with significant African-American membership, founded by a black woman.
Allen-Craft’s story might be part of a trend of new beginnings for DAR towards greater racial harmony.
Are you a descendant of patriots?
Bren Landon, director of public relations for DAR, is encouraged by Allen-Craft’s election. “As more and more black women take on the role of chapter regent, and other leadership roles,” Landon told theGrio, “it reflects DAR’s commitment to the inclusion of, and appeal to, all women who can trace their lineage to someone who contributed to the American Revolution and who want to be active in helping to promote historic preservation, education and patriotism in their local communities.”
In her term as regent, Allen-Craft wants to encourage other black Americans to understand just how important genealogical research is. She will also continue to open up her chapter of DAR to the surrounding community.
“African-Americans have been here as far back as the very first colonists,” she said. “Our lineage goes back very far. I want others to understand that, just like me, they could be the descendants of patriots. I’m not the only one.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR