Amid Poverty, a Family of Riches

Members of the Chandler family at a recent reunion.
Even though a lot of the people at this year's Chandler family reunion weren't even born the first time CBS News covered it, the event began almost identically.

"Which much cheering and much hugging, the nine children of Alex and Mary Chandler were coming home," reported Charles Kuralt.

Kuralt first came to Prairie, Miss. 31 years ago, and the story he found in this family was easily one of the most inspirational of his career.

"The Chandler family started with as near nothing as any family in America ever did," Kuralt reported.

They were share croppers on what Kuralt described as one of the poorest farms in the poorest part …

"One of the poorest farms in the poorest part of the poorest state in America. Alex Chander remembers the time when he had a horse and a cow and tried to buy a mule but couldn't make the payments and lost the mule, the horse and the cow. And about that time, Cleveland, the first son, decided he wanted to go to college."

"So we went to town and borrowed two dollars and a half and bought him a bus ticket to go up there," Alex Chandler said.

"From that beginning, he became Dr. Cleveland Chandler, chairman of the economics department at Howard University," Kuralt reported.

Cleveland helped put his younger brother Luther through college, Luther in turn helped James, who helped Herman, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman. And to make a long story short, all nine children are college graduates.

"It was the ultimate American success story," Kuralt said.

That was then, and that is now, too.

"I knew that I was going to graduate from college, said Cleveland Jr. "I just knew it."

"I mean it was a given," said Chania. "We just grew up that way. It was a given."

"You just expect to succeed," said Luther. "You expect to win."

Cleveland Jr. got a master's degree in music and now plays violin with the U.S. Air Force Band. His sister Kim wasn't as musically gifted, so she just became a neurosurgeon. Today there are 37 Chandler grand children with more than 37 college degrees.

The original Chandler children credit their family's continued success on the four cornerstones of education, faith, family and appreciation for the sacrifices that made it all possible. Of course, the challenge for future generations will be keeping that history alive, but that's where the Chandlers have an ace in the hole.

"In a way it was a great gift what Charles Kuralt gave you guys," Hartman said.

"He had no idea," Lamont said.

"There's so much value in that piece that you can go back and be able to teach a lesson," said Chania.

"And when your kids start not appreciating things?" Hartman asked.

"You take them back to that quick," Chania said.

"Listen to uncle Kuralt," Hartman said.

"Absolutely," Chania said laughing.

"I know that, in the future, whenever I hear that family is a dying institution, I'll think of them," Kuralt said. "Whenever I hear anything in America is impossible, I'll think of them."

And if they Chandler's ever need reminding of how special they are, they'll think of Charles Kuralt.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.