A Jamaica, Queens chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution welcomed 13 new members to its ranks recently, The New York Times reported.
Five of them are black. This would not be a milestone for many organizations but for a historically white organization with a record of excluding blacks it is being seen as a significant moment.
The Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR, is an organization whose members can prove they are related to someone who aided the rebelling colonists in 1776. The DAR, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a “non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children,” it describes itself on its website. Its headquarters houses one of the nation's premier genealogical libraries and Washington's largest concert hall.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously renounced her membership in protest after the organization barred Marian Anderson, a world-famous black contralto, from performing in its Constitution Hall, according to the Times.
Of the nearly 400,000 American soldiers in the Revolution, only about 5,000 were black, Eric Grundset, director of the organization’s library, told the Times. The group does not know how many of its 170,000 members are black because it does not ask applicants for their race, the Times reported.
A retired lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, Michael Nolden Henderson, became the first black member in Georgia of the Sons of the American Revolution in 2010, the Times reported. Henderson went on to become president of his chapter last year, the Times said.
Last week, in a stone chapel in Jamaica, Queens, Dr. Olivia Cousins, a black professor of medical sociology who traces her family to a soldier who joined the rebelling colonists, was named an officer in a small ceremony establishing a new chapter, the Times reported. She joined the group with two of her sisters, Collette Cousins and Michelle Wherry.
Dr. Cousins told the Times, “When most African-Americans hear about the D.A.R., we go straight to Marian Anderson, and we get stuck there,” referring to the barring of the black singer.
But joining DAR was “a no-brainer,” she told the Times. “I’m a part of this country, and my presence needs to be recognized.”
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