We Are Family

Atlanta, Georgia was the scene of the Hubbard-Spann family reunion during the first weekend in August. Atlanta, the capital of the New South, has a lot to offer, but my family had a serene reunion in the woods of the Simpsonwoods retreat center, outside of the city, which is used by the Methodist Church for religious retreats and spiritual renewal.

Coming together has been an ongoing thing for black families from Sunday dinners and birthday parties to funerals, but the family reunion craze really didn’t take off until after the Roots series premiered on television in 1976. After this series appeared, thousands of black families began reconnecting their roots with reunions that have taken place in different regions of the country annually and semi-annually, during the summer months of July and August.

Atlanta is a short distance from Macon, Mississippi, where the Hubbards and the Spanns intermarried and the families lived side by side on plantations, until the great black migration north and Midwest during the late 1930s through the 1950s. It was during this time of vicious racist actions against blacks in Mississippi that hundreds of thousands of blacks -- including most of the Hubbards and the Spanns -- migrated from Mississippi to the north and the west, were racism was less fierce and opportunities were more available to some.

Now back in the south, I sat up listening to my grandmother and great-aunts swap stories of the past as if they happened yesterday. I heard of how my great-uncle Daniel Spann was accused by the sheriff of Macon of illegally helping someone evade the law. Although Daniel had committed no crime, the sheriff felt entitled to question him and regulate black movement based on his whim. My great-grandmother Liza Jane Spann, however, felt it was a cynical attempt on the sheriff’s part to get her land, which was about 200 acres. The sheriff knew that Liza Spann would mortgage her land or just about do anything to get her son out of jail, though she had no way of paying off the mortgage. After family and friends counseled her to be patient, Liza Jane decided to let her son stay in jail for a few weeks. When the sheriff saw she wasn’t going to mortgage the land, he released my Uncle Daniel.

Despite the terror that was perpetrated by white terrorists against blacks, and connivers, who tried to take family land, the family stood strong. This isn’t the case of just one family; there are thousands and even hundreds of thousands of stories like this, and one of the things that bound the family together was the love and respect that black folks had for each other.

According to Dr. Julia Hare, of the San Francisco-based Black Think Tank, family reunions are a way to reflect upon issues of importance to family and a way of keeping the family intact.

"About 100 years ago, 90 percent of the black family was headed by two-parent, married couple households," said Hare, who is also co-author of "The Endangered Black Family." She said this figure could be attributed to the fact that during slavery, blacks weren’t allowed to marry, but after slavery was abolished, blacks rushed to marry and strengthen the family unit.

Today the black family is in a crisis. According to census figures, married couples head only 46 percent of black families. Dr. Hare says the break-up of the black family began when blacks started picking up many of the societal norms of the dominant culture. This was aided by the disappearance of industrial work that took place in the cities in the early 1970s into the ‘80s.

This one-two punch drove jobless men away from their families, and it helped contribute to a culture that is present in a small segment of the black community. A disconnect took place between the youngsters and extended family and many of the positive traditions and rituals that were practiced and taught by the elders began to disappear.

Although it will take a lot of things to restore the black family, one of the first steps that could do some good is the concept of the family reunion. It’s a retreat, where one can visit loved ones, talk over the good times and the bad and get back to the basics and the meaning of the family -- which is the commitment and the love that is shared with one another. This is something I have learned to appreciate every other year when my family reunion takes place.

Lee Hubbard writes on hip-hop, national and urban affairs. Email him at superle@hotmail.com. He is a contributor to AlterNet’s book, "After 911: Solutions for a Saner World."

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