Eric Addison proved just as incredulous as most would. “Yes, 64 years they’ve been doing this,” said Addison. “That is quite a milestone and something that I’m happy is being recognized.”
The “they,” Addison of Baltimore spoke of refers to the Newton family, whom Addison is friends and church mates with. More than 140 family members and friends gathered earlier this month to celebrate the Newton’s 64th annual family reunion.
The proud African American family traces its lineage back to the early 1800s, during a mostly forgettable time in America, particularly the South, when slavery and the mentality of a superior race were the prevailing way of life.
“We have come a long way, this family and everyone else,” said Ronnie Rucker, one of the hosts of this year’s reunion.
The Newton family began organizing an annual reunion in 1950, when Harry S. Truman was president, desegregation of the U.S. military was in the headlines, and civil rights laws and I-95 were far off in the future.
“We made it a habit of coming together to have some fun, to fellowship and to recognize our elders,” Rucker said.
While she wasn’t quite sure of the age of the youngest in the vast clan, Rucker counted a 90-year-old aunt, Menyon Newton-Callum, as the family’s remaining senior member. “We have been fortunate because we have always been such a close-knit family,” Rucker said. “So, we always look forward to getting together. I always like to see all of the kids in the family and I usually give them school supplies.”
During this year’s reunion, which began on Friday, August 9, 2013, the family held a networking session, a worship service and a cookout at Oregon Ridge Park. They also took time to reflect on their ancestors, a tradition for the group. “We respect the elders and we appreciate them,” Rucker said.
The family traces it lineage back to 19th century Charleston, South Carolina.
Ralph Dewitt Newton and Sarah Newton are credited with giving birth to the first generation of Newtons in 1855. Their son, Raeford, was taught to read and write by a slave master’s son, and he married Mattie Morning in 1873 after slavery had been abolished. Raeford’s education and ambition, along with the 50 acres of land he was given by his slave owner, enabled him to provide well for his family.
He sold the Charleston land for $1,500 and moved to Red Springs, North Carolina, where he purchased another plot of land and also became a schoolteacher. Eventually, Raeford became the assistant superintendent of schools in Red Springs and later, taught for two years in Liberia, Africa, with the Methodist Church.
Mattie’s primary responsibility was the care and nurturing of the couple’s children and farming the family’s land. After Raeford’s death in 1909, Mattie raised many of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The family reunions were the brainchild of her son, Fred and his wife, Barbara. Mattie passed away in 1963, at the age of 103.
The family currently owns more than 100 acres of land in Red Springs and maintains farms on about 20 of them. “I get overwhelmed just to see everyone come together,” Rucker said. “A highlight is seeing all of our elders taking a part in the festivities. It’s a joy.”