ADVENTURE

Former U-T reporter pens bio on the incredible life of Black Civil War veteran in new book, ‘The Sergeant’

Shortly after 9/11, a group of Palestinian students had some questions for an American reporter about the lives and history of Muslims in America that sent him on a decadeslong journey, researching and writing about Muslims who had been in the United States since a few years after the Mayflower came ashore, through the American Revolution and the Civil War. Dean Calbreath, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune, ultimately focused on one man, featured in his new book, “The Sergeant: The Incredible Life of Nicholas Said.”

“Initially, my plan was to do a book about all of these Muslims that I encountered from history. … I actually did a whole anthology of these people that I found, looking for Muslim names,” said Calbreath, who was part of the Pulitzer-winning team that broke the story of former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham taking more than $2 million in bribes. One of the names Calbreath searched for was Mohammed, coming across Mohammed Ali ben Said, whose name was later changed to Nicholas. “That’s how I stumbled across his name and immediately felt drawn to him because of his wit, his urbane intelligence and sense of character, and also his love of travel, his love of learning languages. These are things that I also have, and I felt very close to him.”

Said (pronounced Sy-eed) was born in the kingdom of Borno, today known as northern Nigeria, to a famed general in about the 1830s. He was the 13th of his mother’s 19 children, his mother being among the four of his father’s wives. As a young teen, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery, which would eventually lead to his traversing Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Here, he would join one of the first

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