MONROE Long ignored by history, local slaves who served in the Confederate Army finally will receive some rare recognition.
The Union County Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve a plan for a privately funded marker to honor 10 black men, nine of whom were slaves, who eventually received small state pensions for their Civil War service.
It will be one of the few public markers of its kind in the country, and arrives in the midst of state and national commemorations of the Civil Wars sesquicentennial. The granite marker will be placed on a brick walkway at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe in front of the 1910 Confederate monument.
Im glad to see Union County is finally stepping out of the Jim Crow era and being all-inclusive of its history, said Tony Way, the local amateur historian and Sons of Confederate Veterans member who has led the push for the project.
The divisive issue of how, or even whether, to honor the men has percolated in the county for several years.
Some said the plan was inconsistent with other markers at the 1886 courthouse that honored people who died during conflicts. The existing Confederate monument lists regiments, not individual names of soldiers.
But a racially diverse group of supporters said honoring the men was a long overdue way to tell a part of the countys history that had been all but forgotten.
There is no way to know how many slaves were coerced into service or willingly followed their masters to war. Virtually no black men fought in battle for the Confederacy, historians have said. Slave labor provided logistics and support, including digging ditches, building latrines, working in armories and cooking.
In pension applications, all 10 men were described as body servants or bodyguards. They hauled water, carried supplies and helped build forts. Two were wounded.
By the time they received meager state pensions half a century after white veterans collected theirs, they were around 90 years old and near the end of their lives.
Mattie Rice, the 89-year-old daughter of one of the slaves being honored, Wary Clyburn, simply thanked God. I know my father wouldve been so very proud, she said.
Two descendants of another slave, Ned Byrd, echoed Rices sentiments outside of the courthouse. I hate that it took so long, but Im glad for the outcome, Walter Byrd said. Nodding, his cousin Hettie Byrd Wright added, I know my great-grandfather is in heaven smiling down.
Union County owns the courthouse site, and county commissioners had asked the historic commission to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the marker. During Thursdays meeting, historic commission members said they wanted to see more details about the size and wording, issues that should be worked out in time for it to debut by the end of the year.
Several board members said they had wrestled with their decision. But before the vote, board Chairman Jerry Surratt said, (The marker) will correct an omission long suspected but only recently known.
Although pension records survived for these men, theres no telling how many other black men found themselves aiding the people who wanted to keep them enslaved.
One of the only other slave monuments sits at Confederate Park in Fort Mill, S.C., south of Charlotte. An inscription on the 1895 monument honors the faithful slaves and was in grateful memory of earlier days when slaves protected the homefront and helped the army during the Civil War.
And in Tyrell County in Eastern North Carolina, a 1902 Confederate statue at the county courthouse includes the phrase, To Our Faithful Slaves. Both monuments went up in the Jim Crow era.