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The Fiddler on Pantico Run

The Fiddler on Pantico Run

An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family

  • freshman reading
In this gorgeously written and “vividly fascinating” (Elle) account, a prize-winning journalist digs deep into his ancestry looking for the origins of his unusual last name and discovers that he comes from one of America’s earliest mixed-race families.

“My dad’s family was a mystery,” writes journalist Joe Mozingo, having grown up with only rumors about where his father’s family was from—Italy, France, the Basque Country. But when a college professor told the blue-eyed Californian that his family name may have come from sub-Saharan Africa, Mozingo set out on an epic journey to uncover the truth. He soon discovered that all Mozingos in America, including his father’s line, appeared to have descended from a black man named Edward Mozingo who was brought to America as a slave in 1644 and, after winning his freedom twenty-eight years later, became a tenant tobacco farmer, married a white woman, and fathered one of the country’s earliest mixed-race family lineages.

Tugging at the buried thread of his origins, Joe Mozingo has unearthed a saga that encompasses the full sweep of America’s history and lays bare the country’s tortured and paradoxical experience with race. Haunting and beautiful, Mozingo’s memoir paints a world where the lines based on color are both illusory and life altering. He traces his family line from the ravages of the slave trade to the mixed-race society of colonial Virginia and through the brutal imposition of racial laws.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451627619 | 
  • October 2012
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Strange Twist of History

This was where the thread first came into view, an old stone palace miles up a rutted dirt track, alone in the gum resin trees and elephant grass. We parked next to the wives’ quarters, a small village of soot-blackened walls and peaked zinc roofs. Young men in frayed clothes guided us through a twisting corridor to the king’s court. My friend Walter and I waited on benches until the eighty-year-old king, the fon, beckoned us from his wood throne in the fading gray light. We crossed the courtyard in an extended bow. The fon, wearing a black skullcap and... see more

About the Author

Joe Mozingo
Photograph by Noaki Schwartz

Joe Mozingo

Joe Mozingo is a projects reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of the earthquake in Haiti and helped lead a Miami Herald reporting team whose investigation into the crash of the space shuttle Columbia was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Fiddler on Pantico Run was named a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, administered by Columbia University and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.

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