Our Journey from Exclusion to Inclusion

Towards a Fully Inclusive Genealogy Community


The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has prepared the following article to record racist and discriminatory actions and decisions the society made, that regrettably, were not welcoming and inclusionary to the broad cultural diversity of the United States. NGS has published extensive histories celebrating its fifty- and one-hundred-year anniversaries detailing its founding, organization, membership, governance, staff, and programs. This document augments those publications by highlighting the Society’s journey from exclusion to inclusion; sharing a more complete account of NGS’s history; and apologizing for failing to confront the Society’s historical and organizational bigotry, racism, and discrimination.


On 19 November 1960, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) held a vote of its membership on whether to “set aside its generally recognized practice, which has been in force since its organization in 1903, and admit members of the Negro race.” Members voted “no,” 497 to 246.1

History of Exclusion
The end of Reconstruction in 1877 marked a nadir in US race relations2 and drove increases in anti-Black violence, segregation, and racial discrimination. In 1896, seven years before the Society’s founding, the US Supreme Court, in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, ruled racial segregation in the United States to be constitutional. Eugenics, a social movement rooted in a belief in White superiority and proposed practices designed to protect the purity of the White population, was growing in popularity around the time of the Society’s founding in 1903.3

Limited available information exists on the Society’s founders and their personal views on race, but what has been uncovered on one particular founder is instructive. Joseph Gaston Baillie Bulloch, MD, a native Georgian, an accomplished physician, a founding member of NGS, and its fourth president (1909–1912),4 was an adherent of eugenics. In a 1912 article published in the NGS Quarterly, he advises how genealogy should be used to protect the white race from “admixture” and “tainted blood.”5 Given that NGS permitted Bulloch to publish this in its journal, and the segregated society in which the organization operated, it is reasonable to assume that other founders may have shared Bulloch’s beliefs in eugenics or racism and that those beliefs informed the exclusionary practices NGS maintained throughout its early years.

Struggle for Integration
The Society’s path to racial integration and inclusive membership was shaped by history and in parallel with the journey towards racial equality and inclusion for African Americans occurring across the United States. In 1954, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation in schools, enabled by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, was unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Movement through the 1950s and 1960s, from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to the Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins in 1960, to the 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King-led March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and advancements in integration throughout the 1970s. All of these turning points in American history ultimately influenced the history of NGS.

On March 5, 1960, NGS held an evening meeting. James Worris Moore, an African-American employee of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), attended the meeting as a guest, along with other National Archives employees.6 At this meeting, he was given a membership application. His presence at the meeting sparked ire and angry discourse amongst the members of our society.7 The debate as to whether to integrate the membership of the National Genealogical Society was eventually put to a vote by the Society’s members. On November 19, 1960, in an act of racial discrimination, NGS voted to deny Mr. Moore and all Black people membership into the Society.8 Those against integration are quoted in a Washington Post article as saying, “Negroes…have nothing in common with us, genealogically speaking.”9

The member vote of 1960 confirms that NGS was an exclusively White organization in practice at least through its first fifty-seven years of existence. NGS archives reveal no recorded bylaws or policies on this topic before this point. The organization’s exclusionary practice was shaped externally by US history and internally by early NGS leadership.

In 1961, the NGS Council (board of directors) held a special meeting to consider proposed revisions of the bylaws restricting membership to “individuals of the white race.” The Council rejected the change, and instead adopted language limiting membership to “individuals, libraries, institutions, and societies who subscribe to the purposes and principles of this organization.”10 A bylaws committee member, angry that the proposed racist bylaws language was rejected, sent letters to over 700 members of NGS encouraging them to protest the language that was adopted.11

In 1972, James Dent Walker, an accomplished African American genealogist and NARA archivist, applied for and was admitted as a member of NGS.12 He co-founded and served as the first president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) in May 1977, an organization focused on preserving “African-ancestored family history, genealogy, and cultural diversity”.13 Walker was recorded as a member of the NGS Council by April 197614 and the first Black officer in June 197815. Walker was elected to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1999.16

Journey Towards Inclusion
The journey towards inclusion continued to advance at pace within American society over the next forty years, yet the organization struggled to address the perception of exclusion. In 2017, at the NGS Family History Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, then-President Ben Spratling convened a panel to discuss and address perceptions that conference speaker selection practices were not fully inclusive. Panel participants included genealogists Janet Alpert, Bernice Bennett, Shannon Christmas, Dr. Shelley Murphy, and Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL. The discussion was productive and highlighted multiple opportunities to shape future conferences for participants and ensure speakers would be more diverse and inclusive. Bernice Bennett volunteered to become a member of the NGS board and was later invited to serve on the Membership Committee. In 2018, she was elected to the board, becoming the first African American woman to serve.

The killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 sparked a national conversation about how to deal with the pandemic of racism in America. Dialogue across NGS began about how to come to terms with the truth about the organization’s history of racism and eugenics, and how to address continued perceptions of NGS as not fully inclusive.

In addition, NGS merged with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), integrating hundreds of organizations into a “new” more diverse and inclusive organization.17 The combined organization adopted an expanded mission to support both individuals and a diverse community of genealogy organizations, and enable people of all cultures to “discover the past and create a lasting legacy.”18

The dialogue on racism and the opportunity created by the merger motivated the board of directors to issue a statement and moved it to action.19 In March 2021, the board, led by Kathryn M. Doyle the first woman of Asian descent to serve as president, and Matt Menashes the Society’s Jewish-American executive director, established the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. The committee—which continues today—includes genealogists from diverse backgrounds. Chaired by Andre Kearns, the original committee included Bernice Bennett, Ken Bravo, Lisa Fanning, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, and David Morrow. Genealogist Melvin Collier and board member Janet Bailey served on the working group that led to the committee’s formation. Ellen Pinckney Balthazar serves as an active board advisor to the committee. The committee’s goals are to (1) introduce a DEI strategy to the Society, (2) collect better member data to assess diversity across the Society, (3) update organizational, editorial, and marketing policies for inclusion, and (4) drive DEI partnership and member engagement initiatives.

The committee has made substantial progress in advancing the Society’s DEI goals. It established a DEI section of the NGS website, increased communications about DEI activities, and started gathering data to assess diversity in various aspects of the organization. It updated editorial style guidelines for marketing materials and began celebrating various heritage months by sharing important resources with our members.

At the committee’s request, NGS set a goal that twenty-five percent of the Society’s family history conference be delivered by diverse speakers or on topics important to a diverse membership. NGS invited the first African American keynote speaker to its annual conference in 2021. NGS welcomed Ric Murphy, author of Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia, to its forty-third annual conference, held virtually in 2021. In his keynote, Murphy, an educator, historian, scholar, and lecturer, discussed how a group of thirty-two African men, women, and children from Angola arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1619. His lecture covered the controversies sparked by their arrival and their present-day legacy.20

In 2022, the NGS 2022 Family History Conference in Sacramento met under the theme of “Our American Mosaic.” Nearly one-third of all sessions (75 out of 235) met the DEI goal: thirty-one percent of in-person sessions, sixty percent of live-streamed sessions, and twenty-two percent of on-demand sessions. This conference featured the first Asian American keynote speaker. Dr. Gordon H. Chang—author of Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic History of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad—who shed light on this neglected history through extensive findings from biographical and genealogical work by descendants of railroad workers. Andre Kearns delivered a keynote speech, Revealing our American Mosaic, during which he shared the history of his African American family and how it inspires his commitment to making the genealogy community more inclusive of diverse voices and stories from our mosaic.21 He delivered an encore talk virtually during the NGS MemberConnects! program in June 2022, which NGS posted to YouTube for broader viewing.22

The board has directed the Society’s Nominating Committee to fill board positions with individuals who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The 2020 nominating committee included Jordan Jones, chair; Deborah A. Abbott, PhD; B. Darrell Jackson, PhD, CG; Darcie Hind Posz, CG; and D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS,23 and the 2022 committee included Nicole Gilkison La Rue, CG, chair; Bernice Alexander Bennett; Grant Din; Cynthia Richardson; and Kate Townsend.24 These committees helped NGS achieve thirty-three percent DEI representation in leadership positions as of 2022. The Society’s goal moving forward is to continue its diversity efforts, being especially mindful of engaging younger members in the work of NGS.

Looking Back, Moving ForwardSankofa Bird
The Sankofa bird, frequently appearing in traditional Ghanaian art, is an important symbol to African Americans representing the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future. Like the Sankofa bird, NGS is looking back, learning, and working to build an inclusive future where everyone feels they belong.

This reflection allows the NGS to be more accountable for its past actions and more aware of its present responsibility to ensure the stories of all Americans—past, present, and future—are told.

NGS Apology
To this end, NGS acknowledges, regrets, and offers its deepest apology for previously failing to confront the Society’s historical and organizational bigotry, racism, and discrimination. These past actions and behaviors marginalized communities of American genealogists and family historians, especially African Americans.

At present, NGS is actively atoning for its history of exclusion. NGS is committed to continuing its research, uncovering additional information, making its history transparent, and leading change. Join NGS as we move forward on our journey to achieve full inclusion.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee specially acknowledges and thanks Janet Bailey, Bernice Bennett, Lisa Fanning, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, PhD, and Susan Yockey for their research in support of this article. For their assistance with the endnotes, the committee thanks Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, and Nancy A. Peters, CG, CGL.



All websites were viewed 20 May 2023.

1. Wm. H. Dumont, NGS President, Motion and ballot instructions, letter to members, 29 October 1960, 1960 Minutes, Board/Council Business and Minutes, 1940–1967, Record Group (RG) 5, Box 2; NGS Archives, privately held by National Genealogical Society, 6400 Arlington Blvd, Suite 810, Falls Church, Va. Ibid., Report of results of referendum, 23 November 1960.

2. Rayford Whittingham Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro, from Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson (reprint; 1965, New York: DaCapo Press, 1997), p. 62.

3. National Institutes of Health, “Fact Sheet: Eugenics and Scientific Racism,” National Human Genome Research Institute.

4. Shirley Langdon Wilcox, The National Genealogical Society: A Look at Its First One Hundred Years (2003), pp. 27-28.

5. Joseph G. B. Bulloch, “The Problems Which Now Confront Us,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 1 (October 1912): 39–41.

6. Letter correspondence among NGS members located in the NGS Archives reference the African American man who attended the meeting on 5 March 1960 as both Mr. A and Mr. Moore. It describes him as having graduated from Bucknell University, served in the “Korean conflict” (Korean War) and was later employed by the National Archives as an archivist and is currently employed in that position. James W. Moore’s obituary corroborates these details, leading to a reasonable conclusion Mr. A was James W. Moore. See “Obituary: James W. Moore,” 5 April 2019, online news edition, The Beltsville [Md.] News.

7. “Correspondence re admitting an African American to NGS,” 1960 Minutes, Board/Council Business and Minutes, 1940–1967, RG 5, Box 2;  NGS Archives.

8. Wm. H. Dumont, NGS President, “Report of the results of the Referendum,” letter to members, 23 November 1960; NGS Archives.

9. Rasa Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue,” Washington Post, 4 November 1960, p. B7, col. 1.

10. Minutes of the “Special Meeting of the NGS Council to Consider Proposed Revisions of By-Laws,” 6 October 1961, Board/Council Business and Minutes, 1940–1967, RG 5, Box 2; NGS Archives. The approved substitute language was as follows: “Membership shall be limited to individuals, libraries, institutions, and societies who subscribe to the purposes and principles of this organization.”

11. Virginia Crim, Bessie P. Pryor, Katie-Prince Esker, Letter to NGS members, RE: “protest concerning Article IV, Membership,” 30 November 1961, NGS Board Meeting Minute Books, no. 4 [unpaginated], Box 51, NGS Archives.

12. Applications for membership presented to NGS Council for approval on 4 May 1972, numbers 72-269 through 72-289, RG 24, Box 27; NGS Archives.

13. Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, “Founders,” AAGHS. For quotation, “Our Mission,” AAGHS.

14. Van A. Stilley and William T. Strahan, Election Tellers, to Virginia D. Westhaeffer, NGS President, “Re:  1976 Election Teller’s Report,” letter, 28 April 1976, Board/Council Business Minutes, 1968–1985, RG 5, Box 3; NGS Archives. James Dent Walker was elected a Councilor.

15. “National Genealogical Society Council 1978–1980,” Board/Council Lists, 1903–2004, RG 5, Box 1; NGS Archives.

16. Shirley Langdon Wilcox, The National Genealogical Society: A Look at its First One Hundred Years, p. 52. For Walker’s nominations and a biographical sketch, “National Genealogy Hall of Fame Members,” National Genealogical Society, “James Dent Walker (Elected 1999).”

17. “The Merger of NGS and FGS,” National Genealogical Society.

18. “Interested in Family History?,” National Genealogical Society.

19. “A Message for Change from NGS,” 8 June 2020, UpFront with NGS: The Blog for the National Genealogical Society.

20. National Genealogical Society, press release, 2 March 2021, “Author Ric Murphy to Discuss Virginia’s First Africans at the National Genealogical Society 2021 Family History Conference.”

21. “NGS Presents Awards at Conference Banquet,” 28 May 2022, UpFront with NGS.

22. National Genealogical Society, “MemberConnects! with Andre Kearns,” video, YouTube.

23. “NGS Announces Results of 2020 Board of Directors Elections,” 25 September 2020, UpFront with NGS.

24. “About NGS: 2022 Election,” National Genealogical Society, “The Nominating Committee.”