Baby Boomer (born 1943 to 1963)
Karen Batchelor was born in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, Thomas Melvin Batchelor, was born in Hamtramck MI (a tiny city surrounded by Detroit) in 1920. He graduated from Wayne State University Medical School, became a doctor and practiced for 54 years. Her mother, Alice Vivian Dickinson, was born in New York City in 1919. She graduated from Howard University and became a teacher.
Growing up in Detroit during the 1950s and 1960s - the era of Civil Rights and Motown, Karen attended public school and integrated a school in the 9th grade - one of the worst years of her life but certainly a defining moment that shaped her into the person she has become.
Karen attended Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee and with a major in Anthropology. She then transferred to Oakland University in Rochester MI where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She then attended Wayne State University Law School in Detroit MI, where she earned a Juris Doctor degree.
As an attorney, Karen practiced as a litigator, worked in corporate law and as a lobbyist. She later represented plaintiffs in a Civil Rights firm and is a certified life coach.
Recognized as the first known black member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Karen Batchelor Farmer, as she was known then, joined the society in October, 1977. The media took hold of the story about her admission, beginning with the Detroit Free Press, followed by an article featuring Karen on the front page of the New York Times. The next day, she appeared on Good Morning America and then in over 230 newspapers in the United States and around the world. Karen was also the subject of a final clue for the Jeopardy television game show. On July 3, 2020, leading up to Independence Day, Karen appeared in an interview, on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, which aired nationwide.
Karen also is a member of the Women Descendants of Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company, the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, the Winthrop Society, the Daughters of Colonial Wars, and New England Women.
She shares her genealogy passion through her blog extremeancestry.com and doing genealogy for herself and others. Karen is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She enjoys knitting to honor the practice of her ancestors and participating in colonial period reenactments to carry out her interest in living history.
Karen has two younger siblings - sister, Paula Batchelor Fortier, who is also a member of DAR, and her brother Thomas Batchelor. Karen is divorced. She has an adult son “Chip” and counts being a mother as one of her greatest accomplishments. She now has two beautiful grandchildren.
Oral History Summary
First black DAR member.
Somebody has to. Genealogical pioneer. It took a village.
Karen shares stories about how her childhood shaped her into a pioneer having the courage and resilience to defeat opposition she faced when applying to become the first black member of the DAR; her parents being fervent civil rights activists and requiring her to ride a bus one and a half hours each way to integrate a school "because somebody has to", describing it as the “worst year of my life”; being shaped by growing up in Detroit, Michigan in the 1950's and 60's; growing up reading books about the black struggle in her home library; exploring commercial art, attending operas, visiting museums, learning violin, and being in Campfire Girls as a youth; reluctantly being a debutante and her father founding The Cotillion Club and presenting young black women to society; her father ending up in a convalescent home as a kid from a leg injury going untreated due to lack of access to a doctor; her father reinjuring his leg in the Detroit race riots, as a student, and him deciding to amputate to not let it stand in the way of graduating medical school; keeping her father's poem by Emerson on her wall; her father becoming a doctor and her mother working as a teacher; majoring in anthropology at Fisk University; graduating from Oakland University with a bachelor's in psychology; completing Wayne State University law school as a single mom; going into law to apply research skills developed from doing genealogy; working as a litigator, in-house counsel, and a lobbyist; knitting to honor the practice of ancestors; participating in colonial period reenactments to carry out her interest in living history; her membership in the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches and her ancestors being hung and accused of witchcraft; her membership in and being eligible for numerous New England hereditary societies and feeling "more American than apple pie".
Karen talks about discovering her white Revolutionary War patriot William Hood, who earned her place as the first black woman to be admitted to the DAR; her white maternal great grandmother Jennie Daisy Hood marrying black Prince Albert Weaver, in 1889 Ohio; Jennie’s mother not allowing her to bring her children with her to visit because they were showing their colored heritage; her paternal ancestor Isaiah Parker buying enslaved Charity Ann from his father's estate, living with her, and purchasing some of the 17 children he had with her, in Harris County, Georgia; Charity Ann being referred to as Mrs. Parker although they were not legally allowed to marry; Isaiah having no relationship with a white woman; her feelings about having slave owning ancestry; oral history passed down from her grandmother about Charity Ann being bought by her third great grandfather in Virginia, taken away in a wagon with two black horses; Charity's mother running after wagon saying "Bye bye my babies, I will see you in the by-and-by"; grandmother "Gram's" (Beatrice Parker) legend about Charity Ann being part Native American but suspecting it isn't true; Gram being estranged from her father Thomas, son of Charity Ann and Isaiah, who is lost after the 1900 census, leaving his black wife and kids and possibly changing his name to pass for white; Gram's stories about growing up in Georgia always ending with "I saw colored folks hanging from a tree"; Gram marrying at fifteen with only an eighth grade education and not attending her own graduation because she didn't have money for a white dress which girls were wearing for the ceremony; mother not talking about her maternal family because the white side did not want anything to do with them and forging relationships with white relatives later in life; her mother's black father Frederick, of Bermuda, who in 1917 married Hazel, daughter of Jennie and Prince Albert, who lost her U.S. citizenship because of her marrying an “alien"; discovering mother's unknown half siblings while on a family vacation to Bermuda when she was twelve; Jennie meeting and deciding to marry Prince Albert in 1889; Jennie teaching Prince to read and him building a house for them; discovering Prince Albert's mother Cornelia, a free woman of color in 1860, and father Nathaniel, a U.S. Colored Troops soldier, both in Washington, D.C.; her lineage through Jennie to patriot William Hood; William arriving on a rescue mission at Fort Freeland, which was under attack by British and American Indians near the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, unaware that the settlers had surrendered and surviving the ensuing battle; William later marrying Rebecca Lee and settling in New York; visiting the house Prince Albert built in 1810, having present-day occupants allowing her inside, the locals remembering Jennie, and her white cousins being accepting; feeling incredulous when she discovered that she had a Revolutionary War ancestor who helped fight for the America we hold dear today since she always felt “a little short of American” because of the color of her skin; feeling sad that Aunt Clara passed just prior to the patriot discovery and not being able to share in joining the DAR together so Aunt Clara could feel accepted instead of rejected because of heritage.
Karen discusses being admitted to the DAR in 1977 as the first known black member by defying resistance within the society; inquiring about admission to the DAR by writing local chapters, upon the suggestion of archivist and friend Margaret Ward; not knowing if there were other black members, reaching out to two Detroit, Michigan chapters, sharing that she was black, but never hearing back; being unable to meet the requirement of attaining the sponsorship of two members since no one would invite her to a chapter; help from James Dent Walker, African-American, head of genealogical services at the National Archives; becoming aware that she was the first known black to apply but would not be the first genetically black member since some white members discovered that their patriots were of color; being the first to say "I am black, I am eligible, I would like to apply”, then President General Baylies reaching out to chapters to ask who would accept her, encouraging that they "would do a great service to the national society"; the Ezra Parker chapter in Royal Oak, Michigan offering to sponsor her; appearing on the front cover of the New York Times, and in over 230 publications in stories about her admission; a California chapter requesting to review her application, not believing a black could be eligible to the join DAR; Mrs. Baylies protecting her by putting the application documents in her desk and closing the file; Mrs. Baylies being recognized, in her obituary, for admitting the first black member; smiling at the portrait of Mrs. Baylies in the DAR headquarters with each visit, "it took a village to get me there and she was part of that village"; learning decades later about having been blackballed by a chapter who voted against sponsoring her, then transferring to that chapter to heal from their rejection and serving as the Regent (leader); Peggy Anderson's 1974 The Daughters account of race in DAR; initiating her application because "I could" and it was a logical conclusion to finding her white Revolutionary War acnestor William Hood, in ten months, a patriot who had never been established with DAR; feeling uncomfortable as the only person of color at her first Continental Congress, her breath being taken away and feeling really American when the flag unfurled from the ceiling in DAR Constitution Hall; being the subject of a Jeopardy television game show final clue; her family joining the DAR; Alex Haley’s Roots, published four months into her research, serving as a major incentive to keep going; later meeting Haley and learning that he was a fan of hers; not being able to find an African forebearer; misconceptions that researchers will never get through slavery to get to a black person's patriot; not all black ancestry traces back to slavery; serving as National Vice Chair of Lineage Research for African American Patriots and Research; Real Daughter Eunice Russ Ames Davis, daughter of African descent Prince Ames, joining the DAR in the 1800's; reconciling the Marian Anderson incident; regretting going inactive for ten years, not finding how DAR was relevant in her life and how she was relevant in the society; "as a black woman, I felt I had to leave myself at the door"; feeling DAR as an organization, "we have made progress but we still have more progress to make"; feeling troubled by the state of racism in America; identifying the opportunity for DAR to educate members about diversity to continue moving forward as a society; rejecting the notion that racism is “political"; the growing number of black members; the need for DAR to be more attractive for black members; "DAR means a sisterhood, a love for history, and being an American".
Karen Batchelor's oral history was recorded on January 1, 2021
Membership State: Michigan
DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)
Hood, William: Pennsylvania
European Descent Male
In the News
NBC Nightly News, July 03, 2020