For The 1st Time In Almost A Century, A Family Reunion Interrupted — By A Pandemic

Aug 7, 2020
Originally published on August 7, 2020 11:39 am

For nearly a century, the Quander family has come together every year to honor and preserve their history — one that traces its roots back to the story of Nancy Carter Quander, the family matriarch, who was formerly enslaved by George and Martha Washington.

The 95th Quander family reunion was scheduled to take place just outside of Washington, D.C., this weekend. But because of COVID-19, the family decided to not gather this year.

During a remote StoryCorps conversation, Rohulamin Quander, 76, and his cousin Alicia Argrett, 18, talked about their family's long-standing tradition.

The first reunion was held on Aug. 15, 1926, Quander said.

"It's always a very loving, very happy occasion. There are a lot of hugs, a lot of talk about new babies, who has gotten married and, sadly, who has passed away," he said.

Argrett remembered attending a reunion when she was younger. "It was a little bit later that I realized how precious it is to be a part of a family like this," she said.

The founders of the Quander family reunion, pictured in 1938, are (from left) Sadie Quander Harris, Tom Quander Susannah Quander and Georgie Quander.
Courtesy of the Quander family

"The Quander family is a very old and extended family," Quander told Argrett. "When George Washington died, he provided in his will for the freedom of his enslaved people. And one of those people was Nancy Carter, and she married Charles Quander. So this is how it gets started."

"Your great-grandmother, Gladys Quander Tansil, was one of those griots who was a keeper of the story," he said. "Her interest was sparked as a child because she went to her first reunion in 1930."

But recently, Quander has been bothered by what he sees as a lack of sustained interest from some younger members of the family. He hopes Argrett can help continue the family tradition of gathering and preserving their history.

"One thing that I would pass on to you is that you are the keeper of the stories," he told her.

Argrett told Quander that she's going to do what she can "to keep the spirit of the family alive."

"I'm definitely going to put an emphasis on this for my kids," she said. "As we've seen this year, you never know when your last one could be. And I think it's important to capture those opportunities while you still have them in your grasp. And I'm going to do what I can on my end to keep the spirit of the family alive."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Eleanor Vassili. Adapted for the Web by NPR's Emma Bowman.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. For nearly a century, the Quander family has been coming together for family reunions. The family's roots can be traced back to a slave owned by George Washington. The Quander family reunion was scheduled to take place this weekend. But the pandemic got in the way. Rohulamin Quander and his cousin, Alicia Argrett, talked about reunions past.

ROHULAMIN QUANDER: The first Quander family reunion was held on August 15, 1926. They kept a record book. And the record book talked about succotash. It talked about potatoes, cakes and pies, plenty of iced tea. It's always a very loving, very happy occasion. There are a lot of hugs, a lot of talk about new babies, who has gotten married and, sadly, who has passed away. This one would've been the 95th reunion. But because of COVID-19, the family decided to not have a face to face this year.

ALICIA ARGRETT: I went to, like, a family reunion when I was really little. But I think it was a little bit later that I realized how precious it is to be a part of a family like this.

QUANDER: The Quander family is a very old and extended family. When George Washington died, he provided in his will for the freedom of his enslaved people. And one of those people was Nancy Carter. And she married Charles Quander. So this is how it gets started. Your great grandmother, Gladys Quander Tansil, was one of those griots who was a keeper of the story. Her interest was sparked as a child because she went to her first reunion in 1930. Your great grandmother and my father went to college together. And she always had such interesting things to talk about.

ARGRETT: So if you could pass one thing on to me, what would it be?

QUANDER: Well, the one thing that I would pass on to you is that you are the keeper of the stories (laughter).

ARGRETT: Oh, OK.

QUANDER: I have to tell you, the lack of sustained interest has bothered me. I'll be 77 in December. I don't know what's going to happen.

ARGRETT: I'm definitely going to put an emphasis on this for, like, my kids. And as we've seen this year, you never know when your last one could be. And I think it's important...

QUANDER: Yeah.

ARGRETT: ...To capture those opportunities while you still have them in your grasp. And I'm going to do what I can on my end to keep the spirit of the family alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT STEVENS' "FOREIGN GHOSTS")

MARTIN: That was Alicia Argrett speaking with her cousin, Rohulamin Quander. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

ARGRETT: How did our reunions end each year?

QUANDER: Every time the reunion finishes, we all stand. Sometimes you hold hands. Sometimes you just hold the back of the chair.

ARGRETT: (Laughter).

QUANDER: But we always sing blessed be the ties that bind our hearts and kindred love. And with that, we go back to wherever we came from. That's how the reunion always ends.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT STEVENS' "FOREIGN GHOSTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.