A North Carolina woman believed to be one of the last residents of the Tar Heel State with a parent who had been a slave has died at age 91.
Mattie Rice of Union County was the daughter of Wary Clyburn, a former slave who died in 1930 at about age 90, when his daughter was 8.
During the Civil War, Clyburn ran away from his plantation in Lancaster County, S.C., to join his master’s son, Frank Clyburn, initially a member of Company E of the 12th S.C. Infantry Regiment, working as his bodyguard and cook.
Rice recalled her father speaking proudly about risking his life to save Frank Clyburn, dragging the officer to safety after he had been wounded in battle, according to the Charlotte Observer.
According to the Compiled Service Records, Thomas Franklin “Frank” Clyburn (1843-1896) joined the Confederate Army as a first lieutenant in the summer of 1861 and rose to the rank of colonel, eventually taking charge of the 12th S.C. Infantry.
He saw action at numerous bloody battles, including Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.
Frank Clyburn was severely wounded on May 23, 1864, in Virginia.
“In December 2012, Rice helped dedicate the marker in Monroe to her father and nine other Union County men. Nine of the men were slaves and one was a free black man, all of whom served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War then received tiny state pensions for their service late in life,” according to the Observer.
The granite marker at the Old County Courthouse is believed to be the first of its kind to honor black men who worked, willingly or not, for the Confederacy.
The marker sparked some controversy and raised questions about elevating so-called “black Confederates” while downplaying slavery’s role in the War Between the States.
Rice ignored such criticism, spending decades “pursuing her unusual family history,” according to the Observer.
Before the 2012 ceremony, she told the publication, “A lot of people ask me if I’m angry. What do I have to be angry about? There’s been slavery since the beginning of time. I’m not bitter about it and I do not think my father would be bitter about it.”
Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, praised Rice’s persistence over the years in highlighting her family background, work that illuminated a long-forgotten chapter of state history.
Rice’s father settled in Monroe, N.C., after the war, and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.
(Top: Mattie Rice, seen in 2012, in Union County, NC. Photo credit: The [Monroe County] Enquirer-Journal.)