The National Genealogical Society (NGS), a highly regarded organization that researches family ancestry, has apologized for its long history of “racist and discriminatory actions and decisions the society made,” Smithsonian Magazine reports.
According to Kathryn Doyle, the society’s president and the first Asian to hold the position, the decision was in the works ever since the murder of George Floyd when the organization took time to examine some of the racist practices of its past.
“In order to be credible, we have to be transparent, and we have to fully discover what our past was, as so many organizations are doing right now,” Doyle said.
In its formal apology, NGS outlined the various ways that the institution helped contribute to false beliefs of Black inferiority.
“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,” the apology read.
“At present, NGS is actively atoning for its history of exclusion,” the apology continued. “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 formal apology from the NGS follows a report from the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) that revealed that its early leaders were key figures in the American eugenics movement, which was rooted in ideas about the purification of the white race.
Joseph Gaston, one of the founders of NGS who served as president of the group from 1909 to 1912, openly shared his beliefs about White supremacy and maintaining the purity of the White race.
“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,’” the report read.
Racism was not merely theoretical but practical as the NGS enforced a policy of disallowing Black people from becoming members. James Worris Moore, who worked at the National Archives had his membership application denied in 1960 and barred all other Black applicants from becoming members.
It wasn’t until 1972, that James Dent Walker, an acclaimed genealogist became the society’s first Black member. Walker went on to found the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society in 1977.
LaJoy Mosby, the current president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, commends the NGS’s move as well as the organization's diversity-oriented goals.
“It’s a matter of having people come to terms with that,” she says. “It’s the present, not the past, and regardless of how painful it is, it is okay to confront it. Let’s accept it and move forward.”