Her historical search


To be “the first” does not come with a handbook.  When you are first, you are a trendsetter. There is no protocol to follow. Expectations are frequently high and its pressure will linger well after the press releases are published — particularly when you showcase possibility in the body of a black woman.

Meet Karen Batchelor, formerly known as Karen Batchelor Farmer. In October 1977, Batchelor became the first known African-American member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

The DAR is a lineage-based membership service organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in the United States’ struggle for independence. Batchelor’s admission is monumental because the DAR was a historically white organization with a record of excluding African-American women.

Through her lineage research, Batchelor discovered that her family tree includes William Hood, an Irish-born soldier who served in the Revolution in the defense of Fort Freeland. Not deterred by the DAR’s discriminatory history, Batchelor defied the odds by applying for admission.

Once one is “the first,” however, then what? Should she rejoice and sit down or celebrate and pull up?  It is tempting to sit down and let the accomplishment serve as inspiration. After all, few people read the credits after the movie ends, right?

Particularly in situations where racial and gender lines are broken, there is oftentimes an expectation to hear accounts of specific situations when discrimination was encountered. Also, there is a frequent presumption that “the first” or “one of a few” behaves a particular way. Although the demand is real, the response is individual. Sometimes the response appears silent. Things are not always as they seem.

In 1979, Batchelor went on to be an organizing committee member of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society — a Detroit-based organization committed to researching and preserving African-American family research. It is the first of its kind in the state of Michigan and is a great educational resource and model.

Because Batchelor dared to break the rules, membership in the DAR is now open to all women who can prove lineal bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving United States independence regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

In addition, the DAR has taken a number of proactive steps to be inclusive. For example, the DAR has supported a project to identify the names of African Americans, Native Americans and individuals of mixed race who were Patriots of the American Revolution.

In addition, it made available its free online publication entitled “Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War.” Also, it posthumously honored Mary Hemmings Bell, a former slave of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, as a “Patriot of the Revolution.”

All of this is where her historical search led. Have you wondered where yours would take you?

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com

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