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 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.