Englewood Man Traces Roots Back Nine Generations
Englewood man traces roots back 9 generations
By David Kepple
Copyright 1998. Dayton Daily News, Dayton, Ohio. February 12, 1998. Reprinted by permission.
For Karl Sneed, the long journey to find his African roots began unwittingly more than 20 years ago when he was a student at Trotwood-Madison High School.
A teacher asked a question about James Baldwin, the famous black author.
"We didn't know who he was," said Sneed, now 36 and a resident of Englewood. "It was me and another guy - the only other African-American in there - and we didn't know who he was."
"And she said: 'Do you know anything about your own history at all in this country?' " Sneed said. "She was very sarcastic about it, said, 'Well, that's why you all made such great slaves.' "
Sneed decided to show that teacher a thing or two. He went to the library to find out all he could about Baldwin.
"I started to read more about Mr. Baldwin and African heritage and things of that nature, and it just lit a fire," Sneed said.
Two decades later, the fire - a passion, really - continues to burn in Karl Sneed.
His passion is his past and that of his ancestors, many of whom endured the horrors of slavery and the systematic theft of their African heritage.
Through a combination of luck, genealogical skill and sheer tenacity, Sneed, who is a chemical operator at Cargill Inc., has managed to trace his family back nine generations to the Calaba region of West Africa, circa 1790.
He hopes to visit that location in modern Nigeria later this year, and meet with Ibo tribal elders from his family's homeland. In particular, he hopes to speak to the griot (pronounced gree-oh), who carries the oral history of his people in his memory.
"From that point, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find my true name, and then I can put a closure to all this work," Sneed said. "That's the ultimate goal. I think all my work then would be worth it."
"It would probably mean more to me than anything else I can think of, of late, other than the birth of my children," Sneed said.
For Sneed, the upcoming journey adds a special meaning to this year's observance of Black History Month. Even though it also means facing the sorrowful history of the African slave trade as part of the process.
"It was a time in our period that most Americans regret, but it is history; that's the way I look at it," Sneed said. "It's part of our country and we have not really come to terms with that yet. It's as if we're still fighting that Civil War."
Sneed keeps that in mind when helping others of African heritage pursue their own historical roots, another activity he's taken on in his spare time.
"As a genealogist, what I try to do is let them know you must not feed into the frenzy of anger, because we're looking at this as a learning experience and a legacy that can be passed on, one generation to the next," Sneed said.
Those next generations include Sneed's two daughters, Kendra, 7, and Ciarra, 5. Sneed's wife, Canzetta, died of cancer on May 13, 1995, the couple's sixth wedding anniversary.
"My daughters, when I say to them, "where are your ancestors from?" and they'll tell me, "They're from Africa,' " Sneed said. "I say what are you? " 'I'm an American citizen,' " each girl replies.
"We're all proud to be American citizens, because this is the greatest country in the world," Sneed said. "But we have to come to terms with the fact that we do not change our genetic makeup just because we cross over a body of water.
"Let's face it. It wasn't like we were part of the Ellis Island thing. We came over here because of the financial rewards (for others) of free labor. That's just the way it was," he said.