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An Examination of the Positive Impact of Black Family Reunions

By Germaine Julien-Palmer, PhD

Guest Column


Family reunions and homecomings become important focal points of interaction between

kin, as they reestablish ties of descent from key ancestors and hence determine status within their families. Such events serve to signal the status of the participant as either a direct descendent of an important ancestor through blood links, or an affine whose familial history is centered outside of the area.


Although family reunions and homecomings are integrative social events, they

articulate the presence of centrifugal and centripetal forces which operate within the entire

domain of familial relationships.


Schneider (1969) stated that there are two kinds of relatives distinguished in American culture: those related “by blood” and those related “by marriage.”

Homecomings are primarily events of those related “by blood”. Although attended by “affines”

(those related by blood), participants emphasize their relationship to the original founding

ancestors of the “hamlet” (small settlement), and there is a core of “consanguineal” (blood kin)

around whom events occur.


Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) analyzed the family reunion this way: “’Why us

always  have family reunion on July 4th’, say Henrietta, mouth poke out, full of complaint. ‘It so

hot’…. White people busy celebrating they independence from England July 4th’, say Harpo, ‘so most black folks don’t have to work. Us spend the day celebrating each other’.”


Most family reunions are characteristic of extended families, who plan the occasions around celebration, abundant good food, shared reunion responsibilities, simple recreational activities, and, above all, talk.


Although summer is the most popular season and the Fourth of July a popular date for

family reunions for black families, family reunions can happen at any time. Some families have

them annually, others have them only once or twice in a generation’s lifetime, depending on

some members’ initiative in getting the reunion organized.


The impetus for a family reunion, if it is not an annually scheduled event, may be a late-

decade birthday party for one family member, a holiday, wedding anniversary or the celebration

of an achievement such as paying off a home mortgage.


Sometimes a family holds a reunion for a homecoming of one of its members, as in the case of Eudora Welty’s novel Losing Battles, which is a family reunion story focused around the day a son and husband return from a stay at Parchman, the Mississippi State Prison.


Families often gather in someone’s home, though summer picnic versions are commonly held in state or city parks. Motels, hotels or restaurants host them, as do clubhouses or community centers, but by far the most popular settings after homes are churches.


The occasion for catching up on the relatives’ news and gossip, perhaps for transacting a little family business, for settling or even stirring up family disputes, for generally getting in touch again, a family reunion usually has no program.


There might be an occasional  game or swim or boat ride, but the main activities are eating and conversation. The time span may be overnight or even several days, but it will usually include a meal.


After evaluating the  material included in this article, the takeaway is that any circumstance we get to fellowship with family who reside where we are or who may travel to from other states provides an opportunity for us to bond, reminisce and enjoy each other’s company.


Germaine Carey-Palmer, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dillard University




Walker, A. (1982). The Color Purple

Welty, E. (1970). Losing Battles 

Whitehead, T. (2009). Black Family. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

Yates, G.(2009). Family Reunions. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.    




Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/26/19 22:03:53 -0400.



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