Texarkana Woman Welcomed As First African American DAR Member in Arkansas
Today’s members of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution are women who come from diverse backgrounds and hold a variety of interests. It is one of the world’s largest service organizations for women. Their common bond is their lineal descent from patriots of the American Revolution—any woman, 18 and older, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background, who can prove this lineage is eligible to join.
Sharon Fort of Texarkana recently joined these ranks of women.
As a young woman in the early 1980s, before computers were in most households, Fort recalls spending time on a computer in a public library.
“I love genealogy,” said Fort, who was born in Prescott and now lives in Texarkana.
“I was searching for African American ancestors who served in the American Revolution,” she said. “I never found any."
“But that’s when I found information on the Daughters of the American Revolution and thought, ‘I would love to join that,’” she said. “But at that time, I did not know of any black women who had been admitted to DAR. So I just dismissed it.”
Gale Markley of Jonesboro, State Regent of the Arkansas State Society Daughters of the American Revolution, said the first African American woman joined the National Society DAR in 1977.
“There are hundreds of African American women in our National Society membership,” Markley said. “However, Sharon Fort is the first to apply for membership in Arkansas. We hope other women of color will want to explore their lineage to see if they may also have a Patriot ancestor. ASDAR is happy to assist them in the research and application process.”
Fort’s early discovery of DAR would not be her last.
On Sept. 1, Fort, 67, was introduced as the first African American woman in Arkansas whose application has been verified by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Fort’s papers were verified in May.
Fort was presented her certificate of membership to the National Society at a meeting of the Texarkana Chapter, Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
“Here I am,” she said prior to that meeting. “It’s happened. You never know what’s in store for you.”
Fort was joined at the meeting by more than 20 family members from across the country, members of the Texarkana DAR chapter, and others representing the Arkansas Society.
“My family wanted to be here to witness this,” Fort said.
Fort was able to trace her lineage to a son born in 1843 to an enslaved African American woman and the great-grandson of a white landowner who had furnished supplies in North Carolina during the American Revolution.
“NSDAR is inclusive,” said Markley, who presented Fort with her membership certificate. “We come from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, so we don’t all look the same, but we all have a common heritage and in that common heritage is a sisterhood.”
Patty Mitchell, Regent of the Texarkana Chapter, NSDAR, said the chapter “is always thrilled to accept new members and know Sharon will be a valuable addition to our chapter.
“She has volunteered to serve on several committees and is ready to jump in and get to work,” Mitchell said. “We are also proud to reinforce the diversity of our organization by welcoming the first African American DAR member in the state of Arkansas.”
Fort said she attended Booker T. Washington High School in Texarkana, Arkansas, which consisted of all African Americans. It wasn’t until after the spring of 1969 that this school was closed because of a mandate from the Federal Government to end segregation in all schools. Her class was the final class to attend Booker T. Washington School.
In the fall of 1969, Fort began a new chapter in her life when she entered Arkansas Senior High School, also in Texarkana, a school she said she “didn’t want to attend and one that I wasn’t welcome to attend.”
After high school graduation, Fort entered Texarkana Business College. Later, she secured a job working for the federal government as an office administrator, retiring in 1998.
After a lengthy illness in 2004, Fort said she “accepted God’s call to ministry and became a missionary.”
She joined others in establishing a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, God’s Helping Hand Ministries Inc., which operates in the Texarkana area as well as in Ghana, West Africa.
“The ministry is designed to extend a helping hand of compassion, dignity, and an expression of God’s love to those who are in need,” she said.
Fort said she “always possessed a desire to help people who were struggling with addictions and mental illnesses."
“With this in mind, I returned to Texarkana Community College to pursue a study in drug and alcohol abuse counseling,” she said.
In 2008, she graduated from the community college with an Associate of Applied Science Degree with a concentration in drug and alcohol abuse counseling.
It was then that she was offered a scholarship to attend Texas A&M University at Texarkana. In 2010, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in psychology, with a concentration in sociology, and in 2012 she received a Master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in psychology, with concentrations in counseling and criminal justice. She is certified as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor by the state of Texas.
Fort said ASDAR members she has met throughout her journey to membership “have been most welcoming."
“I hope women of color will be inspired to know that all things are possible,” Fort said. “It is time to help remove the racial barriers that once hindered this nation from making progress by joining the DAR organization.”
For more information, contact Gale Markley, State Regent, Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution, at 870-761-4109, [email protected]
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded in 1890 to preserve the memory and spirit of those who contributed to securing American independence. For more than 130 years, the DAR has strived to bring awareness to the honorable sacrifices and enduring legacy of all patriots who fought for America’s freedom. Through the DAR Genealogical Research System (www.dar.org/GRS), the public can access a free database of information amassed by the DAR about these patriots. DAR is a nonprofit, nonpolitical women’s service organization with more than 185,000 members in approximately 3,000 chapters worldwide. DAR members passionately carry out the timeless mission of promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. To learn more about the work of today’s DAR, visit www.dar.org.
Cover photo courtesy of Gale Markley, State Regent, Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
Sharon Fort of Texarkana, second from left, is welcomed as the first African American member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in Arkansas. She is joined by Sue Edzards of Texarkana, from left, registrar, Texarkana Chapter; Gale Markley of Jonesboro, state regent, Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution; and Patty Mitchell of Texarkana, regent, Texarkana Chapter. Fort was installed on September 1, 2022, at a DAR meeting in Texarkana.