The Rumpus Interview with Joe Mozingo

Posted in Africa, Articles, Biography, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2013-04-07 04:31Z by Steven

The Rumpus Interview with Joe Mozingo

The Rumpus

Peter Orner

I recently finished a powerful book about a journey to find the origin of a name. It’s called the The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family by Joe Mozingo. The book details Mozingo’s search for the origin of the name “Mozingo,” which, he comes to understand, is one of the few African names to survive not only the Middle Passage, but the history of American slavery itself.

The book takes Mozingo, a Los Angeles Times reporter, on a great chase—from Los Angeles, to the American South, to Angola—as he traces the history of the first American Mozingo, Edward Mozingo, a former slave from West-Central Africa who eventually won his freedom by suing for it in a Virginia court. Some Mozingos fought for the Union; others for the Confederacy. Some were abolitionists; others were in the Ku Klux Klan. One thing they all have in common is Edward Mozingo, a man who—in spite of everything—held onto his royal name…

…The Rumpus: Your story is especially remarkable in that Mozingo is only one of two African names to survive slavery. Since you had no idea how significant your name actually was when you went into this, could you trace how the revelation came about?

Joe Mozingo: The understanding that I descended from this African man who kept his African name came in different waves. First there was puzzlement—how could this be?—then deep curiosity, then frustration, and eventually this exhilaration. The frustration was this: I needed to envision my ancestor, Edward, but subconsciously I harbored this white-black binary view that has been bestowed to us by American history. I was white. So it was hard to envision him as my ancestor at first. But that blockage gave way as I researched more, visited the places Edward lived, met more Mozingos—black, white, and in-between—and went to Africa. The exhilaration came then, when I felt that link to him, to this lineage spinning back to the beginning. In Angola, where he sailed off into the Atlantic for Jamestown, that connection to this eternal system just welled up inside. It was this great feeling of opening up…

Read the entire interview here.

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The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2013-04-07 04:03Z by Steven

The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family

Free Press (an Imprint of Simon & Schuster)
October 2012
320 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781451627480
eBook ISBN: 9781451627619

Joe Mozingo

“My dad’s family was a mystery,” writes prize-winning journalist Joe Mozingo. Growing up, he knew that his mother’s ancestors were from France and Sweden, but he heard only suspiciously vague stories about where his father’s family was from—Italy, Portugal, the Basque country. Then one day, a college professor told him his name may have come from sub-Saharan Africa, which made no sense at all: Mozingo was a blue-eyed white man from the suburbs of Southern California. His family greeted the news as a lark—his uncle took to calling them “Bantu warriors”—but Mozingo set off on a journey to find the truth of his roots.

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 the Jamestown colony as a slave in 1644 and won his freedom twenty-eight years later. He became a tenant farmer growing tobacco by a creek called Pantico Run, married a white woman, and fathered one of the country’s earliest mixed-race family lineages.

But Mozingo had so many more questions to answer. How had it been possible for Edward to keep his African name? When had some of his descendants crossed over the color line, and when had the memory of their connection to Edward been obscured? The journalist plunged deep into the scattered historical records, traveled the country meeting other Mozingos—white, black, and in between—and journeyed to Africa to learn what he could about Edward’s life there, retracing old slave routes he may have traversed.

The Fiddler on Pantico Run is the beautifully written account of Mozingo’s quest to discover his family’s lost past. A captivating narrative of both personal discovery and historical revelation that takes many turns, the book traces one family line from the ravages of the slave trade on both sides of the Atlantic, to the horrors of the Jamestown colony, to the mixed-race society of colonial Virginia and through the brutal imposition of racial laws, when those who could pass for white distanced themselves from their slave heritage, yet still struggled to rise above poverty. The author’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather Spencer lived as a dirt-poor white man, right down the road from James Madison, then moved west to the frontier, trying to catch a piece of America’s manifest destiny. Mozingos fought on both sides of the Civil War, some were abolitionists, some never crossed the color line, some joined the KKK. Today the majority of Mozingos are white and run the gamut from unapologetic racists to a growing number whose interracial marriages are bringing the family full circle to its mixed-race genesis.

Tugging at the buried thread of his origins, Joe Mozingo has unearthed a saga that encompasses the full sweep of the American story and lays bare the country’s tortured and paradoxical experience with race and the ways in which designations based on color are both illusory and life altering. The Fiddler on Pantico Run is both the story of one man’s search for a sense of mooring, finding a place in a continuum of ancestors, and a lyrically written exploration of lineage, identity, and race in America.

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