My mother was one. That means I’m one: a (big quotes here) “Daughter of the American Revolution.” I wouldn’t have known that if my dad hadn’t told me because my mother never spoke of it. Why? The thought “mortified” her, that is, she’d rather die than lay claim to such a thing.
I was a girl on the one occasion when my father brought the subject up. Mind you, he ached for his own long, traceable family arc. His Irish Catholic background dissolves a few generations back and by the time you hit the Cromwell era, the records disappear altogether. He lived vicariously through my mother’s ancestry, delighting in the idea that her lineage went back to a European-American version of “first people.”
Not mom. I remember that conversation clearly. She cut Dad off in mid-boast, turning to my sister and me to tell us in no uncertain terms that, Yes, our people (person) landed in Jamestown, managing to survive and procreate. Yes, we were technically D.A.R. But she would have nothing to do with that organization because of its appalling history of racism. Period. She made it clear there would be no talk of it in our house. And when we were old enough, she told us, she hoped we would have the good sense to follow her example and affiliate ourselves with more worthy sister- and brotherhoods.
Not a word was spoken of it again. Indeed, dutiful daughter that I am, I’ve scarcely thought of the Daughters over all these decades. But I wish Mom could have read the New York Times with me this past week. Thanks to the astonishing generosity of mind and spirit of a few individual women of African ancestry–and it requires generosity for any such person to give any such organization a second chance–the D.A.R. is being invited to redeem itself. To tell its history true. To open its doors to all Daughters. Thank you to the trailblazers who pushed those damn doors ajar. Perhaps one of these days I’ll consider passing through them–but not before I see a host of folks once excluded welcomed in ahead of me.