American History: Adding Diverse Voices to the Nation’s Origin Story

0

At a time when American history is deeply politicized, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) seem committed to not only expanding the understanding of the country for those who participated in the War of Independence, but also to shedding the stereotype. to be white, Anglo-Saxon. Saxon organization.

For decades after its founding in 1890, however, this stereotype seemed true. There was little to no recognition that people of color might have ancestors who helped America achieve independence.

Why we wrote this

Over the past 40 years, the Daughters of the American Revolution have broadened their membership and historical research. These changes may contain lessons for a more precise and inclusive view of the history of the United States as a whole.

Then the first black member of the modern DAR joined in 1977, and in 1984 the organization explicitly prohibited discrimination on “the basis of race or creed” after a black candidate named Lena S. Ferguson s ‘is refused membership by a Washington, DC, chapter. The group now has around 190,000 members, and Black Daughters says it’s easy to find people who look like them at big DAR events.

Additionally, member searches continue to surface on a diverse group of patriots. A woman is exploring potential patriots in Mexico, and new girls from the Cane River Creole community in Louisiana recently joined.

According to DAR President Denise Doring VanBuren, the organization today has two important tasks: to continue to honor known patriots and to do a better job of finding patriots of color and sharing their stories.

When Michelle Wherry joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), she wasn’t trying to make a statement. She just thought it was a perfect way to honor her mother, who always said that she and her sisters came from a free black line.

Over the next decade, Ms. Wherry’s DAR activities received national attention, largely because she and many of her friends in the organization do not fit a stereotype long associated with the society of 131 years for people whose ancestors helped America. achieve independence. “When you think of DAR, you think of Anglo-Saxon white Protestants,” Ms. Wherry says. “And here you have women who are not what you think are DAR. But they really are.

This is more true than ever. DAR’s membership has increased every year since 2007; it now has approximately 190,000 members in the United States and around the world. DAR has never tracked data on members’ ethnicity, but Black Daughters says it’s easy to find people who look like them at the organization’s annual Continental Convention and state events.

Why we wrote this

Over the past 40 years, the Daughters of the American Revolution have broadened their membership and historical research. These changes may contain lessons for a more precise and inclusive view of the history of the United States as a whole.

At a time when American history is deeply politicized, DAR appears determined not only to undermine its WASPy reputation, but also to broaden the understanding of the country of those who participated in the War of Independence. In fact, the diversity of DAR’s membership and its ongoing historic preservation work may offer a model for rethinking America’s origin history and ultimately revealing another side of patriotism – one that values ​​a variety of voices and isn’t afraid to dig deeper into the nation’s common past.

“Patriotism plays an active role in ensuring that your country is portrayed in a truthful, honest and positive light,” says Nikki Williams Sebastian, a genealogist who joined DAR in 2014. “Being honest is not a bad thing . … History without documentation is a mythology. And we have a lot of mythology in this country.

Stepping away from mythology, leaders created the E Pluribus Unum Education Initiative in 2020, which seeks to identify and promote patriots who have been left out of the popular historical narrative. The project includes a Patriots of Color database and an exhibit titled “Remembrance of Noble Actions: Afro-Americans and Native Americans in the Revolutionary War”.

Contralto Marian Anderson performs for a crowd of thousands from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, after being refused permission to perform at Constitution Hall by the owners of the room, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Seated dignitaries included Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. The event drew attention to issues of discrimination.

Earn your reputation

The DAR was founded in 1890, after the Sons of the American Revolution refused to allow women to join its ranks. The initial recruits included more than 700 “real girls” whose fathers had fought in the American Revolution, and members were eager to promote historical preservation, education, and patriotism.

During its early decades, DAR also served to distinguish members of immigrant populations entering their communities.

“These immigration restrictions of the 1920s had a real racist dimension,” says Francesca Morgan, author of “A Nation of Descendants” and associate professor of history at Northeastern Illinois University. “So the ability to document this far and claim a patriotic mantle at the same time had enormous appeal.”

DAR “veered between civic and ethnic nationalism,” says Simon Wendt, associate professor of American studies at Goethe University in Frankfurt and author of “The Daughters of the American Revolution and Patriotic Memory in the Twentieth Century”. It was also an openly political organization, he adds.

“They called immigration a threat to the nation and rejected the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s,” says Professor Wendt. “These things are very much in keeping with dominant conservative thinking in the 20th century. “

In the second half of the century, Congress tightened laws limiting the political activities of nonprofits. At the same time, some members of the DAR began to challenge racism within the organization. The first black member of the modern DAR joined in 1977, and in 1984 the organization had to rewrite its statutes to explicitly prohibit discrimination on “the basis of race or creed” after a black candidate named Lena S Ferguson was refused membership by a Washington, DC, chapter.

In recent years, the national organization has largely stayed away from conversations that might qualify as political, including debates about monuments to colonial figures or the 1619 Project.

Last summer, amid movements across the country for racial and socio-economic justice, the National Society issued a statement reaffirming the organization’s commitment to equality. The brief message reads in part: “We know that examining history helps us better understand our nation’s long struggle to ensure equality, justice and humanity for all Americans.” … Prejudice, prejudice and intolerance have no place in the DAR or in America.

Nationally, President Denise Doring VanBuren said that the DAR today has two important tasks: to continue to honor known patriots – “warts and all” – and to do a better job of finding patriots of color and sharing their stories.

“We believe that as descendants of these men and women, we must be their voice, and we must uphold and perpetuate the memory of what they have accomplished on behalf of our nation,” she said. “We are in a way the human bridge between the patriots of the American Revolution and the generations that will follow.”

Family and country

Many DAR trips begin with the desire to iron out a family tree. Getting a seal of approval from the DAR Genealogy Board isn’t easy, but for some, this validation motivates them to spend hours and hours of research.

Ms. Wherry’s involvement with DAR has left “fond memories” of working with her sisters, she says, one of whom died in 2019. But her involvement also reflects a clear desire to set the record straight for the time. When she had the opportunity to purchase a tree along a trail in Valley Forge National Historic Park as part of DAR’s Pathway of the Patriots campaign, she wanted him to represent more than Ezekiel Gomer, his sixth great-grandfather who had joined the rebellion. in 1777. Instead, she dedicated her tree to all the “African men, women and children who were part of the American Revolution,” including individuals like Sally St. Clair, who dressed up in disguise. as a man to join the continental army.

Ms. Sebastian, the genealogist, shares this sense of duty. More than 5,000 free and enslaved black men served in the Continental Army, often for much longer periods than their white counterparts. “I want everyone to remember that black history is American history,” she says.

However, Ms. Sebastian entered the DAR through a white patriot, and like other black girls, her story involves a forced relationship between a female slave and the men who owned her.

Rethinking the Revolution

Edward Barrett, a plantation owner from North Carolina, was already in the DAR Patriots Database when Ms. Sebastian began investigating her family history, she explains in an episode of “Daughter Dialogues “. Ms Sebastian’s family used DNA tests to prove they were related to Barrett through Ellen Johnson-Mathews-Fisher, who was enslaved by Barrett’s grandson and gave birth to his children in the 1860s.

Stories like that of Ms Sebastian underscore the importance of more inclusive membership policies. At some point, Ms. Sebastian says, potential members had to have a legal marriage to prove their descent. For families like his, it was a difficult question.

One of the most effective ways to increase membership diversity is to simply study the American Revolution, according to Yvonne Liser, National Membership President of DAR. A girl, she says, searches the papers for Bernardo de Gálvez’s expedition – who led the Gulf Coast campaign against the British – and finds potential girls in Mexico. Louisiana recently welcomed a wave of new girls from the Cane River Creole community, all descendants of French patriot Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer and Marie Thérèse Coincoin, who was freed from slavery and became a powerful businesswoman. in colonial Louisiana.

This research is not just about increasing membership or eliminating any vestige of the DAR’s ethnic nationalist roots. As one of the oldest and most popular lineage societies dedicated to preserving Revolutionary War, members say DAR could help reshape the country’s understanding of its own origins.

“Management recognizes that we have a role to play in sharing these stories [with everyone], says Ms. Sebastian, because it’s a more rewarding story.


Source link

Share.

Leave A Reply