They are a group of African American women who have been able to trace their lineage to the nation’s founding patriots. They gathered for lunch five days before the nation was to celebrate its independence to discuss their role as Black members of the nation’s premiere heritage organization for women—the Daughters of the American Revolution.
There was Karen Batchelor, who is descended from a White man who fought in the Revolutionary War. There was Maria Williams-Cole, who has three Black relatives who participated in the war. There was Laura W. Murphy, who was scheduled to read from the Declaration of Independence at a special program slated for July 4th at the National Archives. They were in town to attend the annual convention of the 168,000-member DAR.
The ladies came together on June 29 at Georgia Brown’s restaurant in Northwest Washington. Over nouveau soul food, they talked about their “patriots,” their search for their ancestral ties, the significance of being related to the men who are credited with helping to make our nation independent.
“It almost moves me to tears to be in this group today,” said Batchelor, of Detroit. a genealogist. She said spending time with women with ancestral ties is especially meaningful because African Americans often find tracing their roots difficult.
As the Daughters waited for peach tea and fried green tomato appetizers, Williams-Cole, of Bowie, elegant in a navy blue suit and white pumps, the unofficial historian of the group, took the floor to share new information about the Black DAR.
There are now approximately 100 Black Daughters, she said, 86 of whom are living. Eighty-eight have been accepted from 1977 to the present and they represent 49 families—26 Black and 23 White.
Linda Jones, a Daughter from Brooklyn who discovered her ancestry through her family’s oral history, offered a suggestion to anyone interested in tracing their lineage.
“Pay attention to what those little stories are, because you never know what you can find out,” Jones told the group.
The connection the women shared was obvious. When the Daughters greeted each other at a back table shortly after noon, they hugged and held hands. All but two wore their DAR ribbons decorated with medallions and pins. Susan Hippen, a Daughter active in a Virginia chapter, explained that every Daughter will have at least three pins: the DAR official pin, their chapter pin, and their Patriot Bar, which is engraved with the name of their ancestor, or “patriot,” who is connected to the American Revolution.
Williams-Cole, who is credited with raising more money for the DAR than any other Black member and has logged almost 3,000 docent hours at DAR Constitution Hall in Northwest, had more than 20 decorations on her ribbon.
To become a member, a woman at least 18 years-old must prove her lineage to an ancestor who aided the country in its quest for independence by way of military, civil, or patriotic service. The tie is made through records, including a birth, death, or marriage certificate, officials said.
Murphy, great-granddaughter of AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr. and descendant of Philip Livingston, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, believes there are thousands of descendants who simply can’t verify their relationships.
“I know there are [others],” she said. “The difficulty is supporting documentation. A lot of us can trace our ancestry, but because Blacks were treated as property…a lot of people don’t have documentation of the birth, death, marriages, of each generation, because that documentation either wasn’t required by the state or it wasn’t required for Black people.”
As the servers circled the table delivering checks to each Daughter, Williams-Cole drew fresh, red roses from a white box and presented one to each member of the group.
They took a group photo and left, hugging and kissing and pledging to be in touch.