(Joseph Victor Stefanchik)

Interview by Julia Wilkerson

We say we are “one of the oldest consistently documented African American families.” The historians have said we are the oldest, because they cannot find any record of a consistent continual documentation for any other African American family that’s come down from then to now. When I was in law school at Howard University in 1968, my father and mother took me to my first Quander family reunion. I met several Quander family members I had never known before, and it sparked my interest. So I took that on as a project, beginning with research to verify various things that I had heard to try to prove it, or maybe disprove it.

One of the ancestors that most inspires me was Henry Quando (the name in Ghana is Amkwandoh). He lived in the 17th century. He was a man who demonstrated determination to go forward to provide for his wife and family. Once he got free, he worked very hard to make that happen. He ended up in court, suing on behalf of his daughters. And even though he did not win — the court ordered taxes to be paid on his wife, particularly because of her race (Can you imagine having to pay taxes for being black?) — the fact that he stood up and objected, he kind of set the tone, later, to stand up and insist on our civil rights. Because of him and those that came later, [they] showed us the way toward our standing up to eventually enjoying our full freedom.

I’m descended from the Maryland side of the river. Sukey Bay’s daughter Nancy, one of the ancestors at Mount Vernon, married Charles Quander, a free black man, and they had several children. Thus the name Quander was permanently established on the Virginia side. George Washington’s slaves were freed under his will of 1799, but their ability to leave was postponed until after Martha’s death. We do hold George Washington accountable for the fact that he did not manumit his slaves during his lifetime, and that would have made him a greater statesman if he had. We recognize that George Washington was the father of our country, and also a man of his time. We recognize that the institution of slavery, a negative institution though it was, was the reality of what we could expect in those days. But at the same time, we have a relationship with him, and a continuing one, in recognizing the Quander family and its descendants are very unique in that we were in a very significant, visible position — slavery nonetheless — from a certain place in American history.

When I was graduating from college, I did not necessarily have that full sense of what it meant to be a Quander. That really means something, and with the passage of time I have grown into that role. I want to make sure that those who come after me understand the significance of what it means.

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