Monday, February 24, 1997
Kin of slave, slave owner
tell of friendship

The Cincinnati Enquirer

In his famous ''I Have a Dream'' speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied that someday the descendants of slave owners would sit down with descendants of slaves.

On Sunday, Pam Smith and Ann Neel lived that dream and shared their discovery with an audience at the Cincinnati Art Museum in a lecture titled: ''Entangled Lives: Confronting Our Slaveholding Past.''

The lecture was sponsored by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a cultural center planned to open along the Cincinnati riverfront in 2002.

Ms. Smith, 39, and Mrs. Neel, 59, lived 2,000 miles apart and grew up in completely different cultures. But they told an audience of 200 that they have become close friends since discovering that Mrs. Neel's great-great-great-grandparents once owned a relative of Ms. Smith's in Missouri.

''I became interested in researching my family tree after watching the movie Queen, which took me to Randolph County in Missouri where my family was from,'' said Ms. Smith, the public information manager for Rotary International in Chicago. ''I was told to contact this sociology professor at Puget Sound. I didn't think she would return my call.''

Mrs. Neel, a professor of comparative sociology and women's studies at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wash. said she was excited about getting a call from someone from Randolph County because that was where she was born.

''I called her right away.''

From information they uncovered after that, they developed ''Entangled Lives,'' a presentation of how they made the discovery, about their separate lives and how the discovery has woven into a friendship. They have been telling their story to groups around the country for about a year.

''Out of a separate past, a culture and a heritage came two people, born 20 years apart, who have found a thread to form a close-knit friendship,'' Ms. Smith said.