The Williams family overcomes COVID-19 to log their 125th consecutive family reunion

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Mother's Day weekend is special for so many different reasons. For the Williams family, it's a time to celebrate their entire history and they've been gathering reunion style now for 125 consecutive years.

Durham native Edith Allen Penny helped plan a special anniversary celebration that had to be canceled.

"It was going to be a great weekend, but that's okay. COVID thought it stopped us," Penny said.

The virus did alter plans dramatically. Reducing a three-day celebration with close to 200 family members down to an hour and a half virtual connection.

James Horton says the family wanted to keep the tradition alive no matter what.

"We were going to say let's just not have a reunion this year. Let's just wait until next year and then do the 125th. The 7th and 8th generation said no. We don't want to lose that consecutive record that we have."

The Williams lineage dates back to the early 1800s in Chatham County. It began with Mountain Williams who was born a slave in 1814. In the late 1800s, her grandchildren organized the first documented reunion and the family has been gathering ever since.

"They started gathering the second weekend of May back in 1875 and every year after that it became the tradition that you came home then. It's gone from meeting on Sunday to the whole weekend."

"There's so much love, there's so much fellowship. There's so much uplifting. We celebrate the graduates. We celebrate the new births."

The assemblies have gotten so big there's a committee called the Williams Family Circle. Horton, who lives near Charlotte, is the president.

"That was incorporated in 1952 and that basically brought us together. Organized us to allow us to better organize the reunions every year."

Playing golf, eating good food and going to church together will have to wait until next year. That physical connection will be missed.

"I'll have my family here to hug but that won't be the same as seeing all those cousins you haven't seen. We have some family members who only come home for the big years. We do something big every five years."

This reunion at a distance will make that next in-person gathering, the 126th, even more special.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.