According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the Daughters of the American Revolution had often disagreed with President Roosevelt’s polices, and passed resolutions making that clear.

While addressing members of the DAR on April 21, 1938, he thanked them for their patriotism and their work in educating young people. He also hinted that there may be trouble ahead.

Just two years earlier a fascist Italy conquered Ethiopia and aligned with Nazi Germany, which also had formed an alliance with Japan. In 1937 Japan invaded China, and the month before FDR’s speech to the DAR, Germany annexed Austria.

Roosevelt told the DAR that he had family who had come to this country on the Mayflower, and that all but one of his ancestors who were able to fight during the Revolutionary War, fought for the independence of the colonies. One of his ancestors was a Tory, he confessed.

“Remember, remember always that all Of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists,” Roosevelt said.

He told members of the DAR how important it is to keep American democracy alive. “The spirit of opportunity is the kind of spirit that has led us as a nation – not as a small group but as a nation – to meet the very great problems of the past,” he said. “We look for a younger generation that is going to be more American than we are. We are doing the best that we can and yet we can do better than that, we can do more than that, by inculcating in the boys and girls of this country today some of the underlying fundamentals, the reasons that brought our immigrant ancestors to this country, the reasons that impelled our Revolutionary ancestors to throw off a fascist yoke. We have a great many things to do. Among other things in this world is the need of being very, very certain, no matter what happens, that the sovereignty of the United States will never be impaired.”

A year after this speech, Italy invaded Albania, and the Roosevelts were feuding with the DAR.

Howard University petitioned the DAR to use its Washington, D.C. auditorium called Constitution Hall. With 4,000 seats it was the largest venue in the city. The university wanted it for a concert Easter weekend featuring opera singer Marian Anderson.

Nope.

Marian Anderson was an African American, and the DAR did not allow African Americans to perform at Constitution Hall. In response, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a DAR member, resigned from the group in a rather public way, and then began pulling strings through her husband and the Department of the Interior to have a bigger and better outcome for the opera star.

On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, 75,000 people, white, black, young, and old, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian Anderson sing, and hundreds of thousands more heard her on the radio. She opened her concert with the song “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).”

I don’t know why the DAR at that time wasn’t against exclusion. After all, they formed in 1889 on the 100th anniversary of President George Washington’s inauguration because the Sons of the American Revolution said there were ‘no girls allowed’ in their group. And those women would not be allowed to even vote in this country for another 30 years.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, igniting World War II in Europe, and despite so many Americans calling for neutrality, and saying we should only worry about our own defense on these shores, and that what was happening over there was none of our business, it was inevitable that we would soon be forced to throw off another fascist yoke in the world.

And as FDR mentioned, young people did become more American than those before them.

By 1952 the DAR changed its policy on African American performers. By the 1970s they included African American members, and their education programs for some time have included the role their members’ ancestors, not only whites, but African Americans, and Native Americans, played in the independence of this country.

Marian Anderson enjoyed a long career, and in 1961 she sang the National Anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.

Fascist and racist attitudes are never satisfied. Like weeds, they are always waiting to grow as much as we allow them to, whether here at home, or somewhere else. Many of our ancestors came here to get away from that kind of crap, and have fought to keep it away. Many still do, like all good immigrants, revolutionists, and young Americans.

Steve Gillespie is editor of The Times Dispatch. Email him at editor@thetd.com.

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