ASHEBORO, N.C. (AP) – To the outsider, red-haired, pale-skinned Jewell Ledwell looks out of place at the Ledwell family reunion, for years a predominantly African-American gathering.

But Jewell Ledwell feels right at home.

“In my mind, this is historic,” says Ledwell, 63, who spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. “You don’t hear about this, blacks and whites getting together.”

This is the second straight year that Ledwell, from Alna, Maine, has attended the event, which took place this weekend.

He went to last year’s gathering after finding information on the Internet. He had spent some time researching Ledwell family history, tracing his family’s roots to England during the 1200s.

Ledwell, his mother, a sister and two nieces showed up early for the reunion in Asheboro last year. After a short time, it began filling with African Americans, a few wearing Ledwell name tags.

“Mama and I looked at each other,” he says.

Eventually he introduced himself to Jane Ledwell Gant, who had been pointed out to him as the reunion’s organizer.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, now,'”‘ Gant says laughing, remembering her surprise.

Jewell Ledwell and others worked on tracing back the connection during the reunion. In the 1830s, a freed slave named Jacob met and fell in love with a white woman from Randolph County named Fanny Ledwell. Their children are what links the Ledwells.

Gant said none of the local Ledwells were shocked to learn of their white ancestry.

“Between the hazel eyes and the straightness of the hair, you knew your descendants were white,” she said.

AP-ES-06-29-03 1826EDT

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