JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a story about the founding of our nation.
A distant ancestor of Rohulamin Quander was enslaved at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
Quander is now a tour guide there, where he offers a unique perspective on the contributions of African-Americans to our country’s history.
This story was filmed, edited and produced by middle and high school students who are part of the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs program.
ROHULAMIN QUANDER, President, Quander Historical Society: The past always has an impact on the future. Those who do not know their past are kind of destined to repeat it.
We have that program every year.
I have been coming here all my life. I remember when I was like about 12 years old. But I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the family’s longstanding connection.
We’re going to go up to the exhibit, Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
I am a licensed tour guide in the District of Columbia, and I come and I bring groups all over the metropolitan Washington, D.C., including to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, which the Quander family has a longstanding historical connection with.
SUSAN SCHOELWER, Co-Curator, Mount Vernon: Nancy Carter was a young girl, really, who was 11 years old in 1799 when George Washington made provisions in his will to free his slaves.
Her mother, Suckey Bay was her name, was an enslaved woman who lived on one of Washington’s five farms and was a field hand. So when Washington freed his slaves, then Nancy Carter was free. She later married Charles Quander, who was a member of the Quander family. And so there are many descendants that come down from that and are part of the large Quander family, which, as you know, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, documented African-American family in the country.
ROHULAMIN QUANDER: The family history goes back into Maryland in the 1600s. We hear about the Hamiltons and the Madisons and the Jeffersons.
Well, do we hear about the enslaved people who made sure the crops were in, who made sure the fishing was proper, who made sure the distillery was run? They were the ones who were the backbone, so that George Washington could go off and become the father of our nation.
SUSAN SCHOELWER: You really can’t understand George Washington’s life without understanding the lives of the people whose lives were intertwined with his, whose work supported his estate.
ROHULAMIN QUANDER: I try to instill into everyone the importance of understanding where we as Americans came from. I often say this is not a black history tour; this is an American history tour.
DANIELLE WADE, Visitor, Mount Vernon: I think, for me, it’s really — it gives me a sense of history to share with my kids, and it’s also really neat to be able to participate in this tour with Mr. Quander, as he has relatives and his ancestry line is here at Mount Vernon.
SUSAN SCHOELWER: It’s also, I think, important to honor the lives and the contributions of the people who were enslaved here and elsewhere whose stories have not been told, have perhaps not been remembered, have not been appreciated.
ROHULAMIN QUANDER: We are a bridge from the past to the present. And we have a responsibility of upholding the Quander name and lifting others as we climb.
And it’s important for people to understand that we have earned our rights. We have built, literally physically built Mount Vernon, built the United States Capitol, built the White House, along with other people, of course.
But we need people in the African-American diaspora to understand that we have always been a part of what constitutes America.