By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Lena Santos Ferguson knew she had the ancestry to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But because she was black, in the 1980s it took a four-year battle.
Ferguson traced her lineage to her great-great-great-great-grandfather Jonah Gay, a white man from Maine who served as a member of a committee of correspondence during the American Revolution.
Ferguson remained diplomatic but optimistic about her prospects of joining.
"I don't think most of the women in the DAR know this is going on," Ferguson said in a 1982 interview. "I must have hit on an isolated incident. I hope so."
After pressure from the D.C. Council and a subsequent amendment of their bylaws, the DAR granted Ferguson full membership in 1984. She become the second black woman to join the organization. She served for 20 years in the Elizabeth Jackson and Margaret Whetten chapters until her death in 2004.
This month, the D.C. Council posthumously recognized Ferguson, a 50-year resident of Ward 7, with a ceremonial resolution in her honor.
"We are grateful," said nephew Maurice Barboza at the ceremony. "Lena finally can rest in peace."
Barboza, 63, founded the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify and construct a memorial for black soldiers who served in the American Revolution, in honor of his aunt.
"Lena continues to be a guiding spirit to all of us," Barboza said. "She wanted children in the District who could be descendants of the forgotten black patriots to have the educational opportunities their parents and grandparents could only dream of."
In May, the DAR published the second edition of "Forgotten Patriots -- African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies." The book highlights the contributions of more than 6,600 African Americans and American Indians who contributed to America's independence.
Founded in 1890, the DAR is a nonprofit, nonpolitical volunteer service organization for women dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history and securing America's future through education.
For more than 90 years, most of its members had been white.
Today, women who are 18 or older who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution are eligible for membership regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.