Baby Boomer (born 1943 to 1963)
Karen Bennett Harmon was born in Washington, DC. Her mother, born in Denver, Colorado, worked as an Office Manager for a school district in San Antonio, Texas. Her father was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a retired Air Force Colonel and pathologist.
With her father serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, Karen and her family moved often. Before graduating from high school, she lived in Washington, D.C., Denver, Colorado, San Francisco, California, Tokyo, Japan, and Fort Worth,Texas with her fondest memories being those of Wiesbaden, Germany. In high school, Karen participated in the drill team and track.
While Karen’s parents remained in Germany, she left to attend Howard University, having never seen the campus, to matriculate at her parents’ beloved alma mater, driven by their fervent stories and spectacular memories of their time spent there. In stark contrast to the haven of Wiesbaden, the urban setting of Washington D.C. was quite an adjustment for her. Although Karen is a passionate pianist, her father steered her away from majoring in music and instead encouraged her to pursue a more practical career. After a year of studying nursing, she decided to major in Broadcast Journalism and minor in English, in which she earned her bachelor’s degree from Howard.
Having grown up reading nursing books, volunteering in a hospital as a candy striper and working in a dental lab, combined with her journalism education, Karen worked in the field of communications and eventually was drawn to working as the managing editor for the journal Investigative Radiology, for over twenty years, where she transitioned to part-time work while raising her two daughters with her husband. After becoming a single mother, she began working full-time for Africare. During her career she has also worked for The Washington Post, the Austin American-Statesmen and for the Smithsonian’s National African American Museum Project, the early phase of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Karen currently works as a Program Analyst at the National Cancer Institute.
Karen has been honored with the Kelly Government Solutions Distinguished Achievement Award in 2019, and she earned a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in 2018.
Karen is proud of the contributions she made to the journal Investigative Radiology over the past twenty years and making significant progress on her family tree, which she has found very fulfilling.
While no longer playing for an audience at her church, Karen still enjoys playing the piano daily at home. Karen has organized a family band for Christmas holidays, with her sisters and their children playing flute, violin, clarinet, and drums. She also enjoys reading and puzzling. She is a member of the Potomac (VA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
Karen has four sisters and a daughter.
Oral History Summary
Pianist, scientific editor. Proud to descend from bold women.
Karen talks about great aunt Bernice Gaines Hughes, the first black female Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces, serving in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in England and France WWII, aviation cadet; maternal 2nd great grandmother arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1862 as a fugitive slave, a nurse in the Battle of Glorieta Pass, casting her first vote in 1929, fluent in Spanish and honored on a plaque; visiting relatives passing for white in Oakley, Kansas with her maternal great grandmother Allena Barker Cary who stressed "the children may not know and it is not your place for you to say anything", being introduced as her friend and having to be quiet to not destroy the life of a young man living there while studying his features, wanting to say “I am your cousin!”; Allena writing down family oral histories, being interviewed by the Amistad Research Center and newspapers in Topeka, Kansas and Canada; her 5th great grandmother Lamoneha, lured upon a ship in Africa then enslaved in Kentucky and daughter Almeda and granddaughter Linny going to Canada on the Underground Railroad; Linny marrying John Langston Buckner, the great grandson of European descent Revolutionary War patriot William Buckner; William's son, John having two sons with enslaved Mary "Polly"; John freeing their two sons in his will and wanting them to be educated to become farmers and cordwainers; sons moving to Malden, Amherstburg Canada, holding land; their son Thomas, fighting in the Rebellion Patriot’s War on the Canadian border from 1837-1839 and being a spokesperson for free people of color, starting schools, settling in Kansas; William’s civil service as a magistrate in Caroline County VA, the first county to cut ties with the Royal Government, calling court together with fellow patriot Edmund Pendleton after a messenger on horseback carried the news from Philadelphia; William being married to a relative of President James Madison but her application to James Madison society denied because John was not married to "Poly"; Almeda interviewed at 106 as oldest person in Topeka; ancestors listed as white on marriage records but black in later census in Colorado where small population of blacks weren't perceived as an economic threat, Ku Klux Klan instead against Asians in laundry industry; adjusting to Washington D.C., in stark contrast to the haven of Wiesbaden, Germany where she attended high school, to attend Howard University, having never seen the campus, and matriculate at her parents’ beloved alma mater, driven by their fervent and spectacular memories; being a passionate pianist, but her father, retired Air Force Colonel and pathologist, insisting she pursue a more practical career; studying nursing for a year then switching to Broadcast Journalism; losing her eight year old daughter Lauren in a tragic car accident, separated from her husband at the time; organizing a family band each Christmas, with her sisters and their children playing flute, violin, clarinet, and drums; working as managing editor for journal Investigative Radiology, for over twenty years and on Smithsonian’s early phase of the National Museum of African American History and Culture; being uncomfortable when a white DAR member talked about being in Confederacy lineage society and how Union soldiers destroyed their family's records and plantations; serving on chapter lineage committee; surprised at a DAR meeting when great aunt Bernice appeared in chapter's program; about Marian Anderson, "almost all organizations and institutions have this history ", her mother feeling more positive after seeing other women of color in DAR, "sometimes people get stuck on one incident although the person it directly affected did move forward".
Karen Harmon's oral history was recorded on January 24, 2021
Membership State: Washington, D.C.
DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)
Buckner, William: Virginia
European Descent Male