Annette John-Hall: A reunion brings together five generations of love and history

Generations of family and friends surround Susan Angry. The 86-year-old matriarch has 20 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.
Generations of family and friends surround Susan Angry. The 86-year-old matriarch has 20 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 19, 2011

Susan Angry's roots extend from rural Georgia to central New Jersey to Kendal at Longwood, the Quaker retirement community in Chester County. Along the way, she picked cotton, dodged gunfire, faced racial venom, and was blessed by the kindness of white strangers.

Most important, through all the toil, oppression and prayers, Angry managed to give her children something that for many years she couldn't get - an education, and the freedom to secure a livelihood.

Today, the 86-year-old matriarch has a beautiful family to show for it - professional children, 20 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren - and this year, two great-grandsons who are college-bound.

On Saturday, they converged on Kennett Square for a family reunion hosted by Susan Angry herself.

Standing sturdy and regal, giving no hint of the difficult knee-replacement surgery she suffered through this year, Angry greeted her offspring by asking them to sign the guestbook. "Take some time to share your feelings. It doesn't matter what you talk about. Make connections with each other, and remember I love you - we all love you."

"I'm just so proud to be her granddaughter," says Tammie Angry Smith, 37, who came up from Norfolk, Va., with her husband and four sons. "I did it for the kids, to remind them where they came from. My grandmother has so much to offer - she has made her mark in Chester County."

The making of a Quaker

A short talk with Angry makes clear that her surname is a contradiction. Her sweet spirit is unaffected by the harsh life she and husband Rufus (who died in 1984) endured sharecropping for virtually nothing in rural Georgia, outside Plains.

"My mother was 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds of solid muscle," says Clifford Angry, 63, the oldest of Sue's six surviving children (she was mother of 11). "She could pick 200 pounds of cotton a day. She kept up with my dad."

Always wanting something better for the children, the Angrys decided in 1954 to move to Koinonia, an interracial cooperative farm in Sumter County, Ga.

Nirvana was short-lived. Following Brown v. Board of Education and the cooperative's attempt to help two black students enroll in the Georgia State College of Business, mayhem ensued. Vandals nearly destroyed the farm. Then came the nightly drive-by shootings by the Klan.

The Angrys fled and settled briefly in central New Jersey. In 1958, they found a permanent home at Thorncroft, a 68-acre farm in Chester County, owned by Quakers who viewed the family as nothing more than brothers and sisters. They lived and worked at Thorncroft for 21 years.

Not surprisingly, Sue Angry became a Quaker in 1960.

Love and faith

It's astounding how one brave decision can affect the lives of five generations. That's why reunions are so important: to tell the story, the history, so that the opportunities so many worked so hard to earn won't be squandered with future generations.

Especially in African American families, which participate in reunions more than other groups, says Ione Vargus, a retired Temple University professor and founder of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple.

Considering the continuing breakdown of African American families, Vargus says, reconnecting through a family reunion could have a profound impact on young males, who often lack support, encouragement, and, yes, love.

Vargus witnessed it at her own reunion several years ago: "Some of my nephews felt they weren't particularly loved because they weren't going to college. During the reunion, they realized we loved them in spite of the fact, and it made a big difference."

Faith and love got Sue Angry through. And it is the same love that fuels great-grandson Louis Smith's desire to help sustain the family reunion after Angry is gone.

"My great-grandmom showed us the true meaning of love," says Smith, 18, who is headed to Kutztown University on a football and track scholarship. "When all the family comes together, it's nothing but love. You can't beat it."

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986,, or on Twitter @Annettejh


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