A Saturday memorial service in Monroe for a slave’s daughter will include people in Civil War-era garb, cannon blasts, mayoral proclamations and an appearance by an ex-congressman and “Dukes of Hazzard” star.
The service is for Mattie Rice. She helped push Union County to recognize in 2012 the Confederate Army service of her father and nine other local African-American men, all but one of whom were slaves. They received tiny state pensions late in life.
The men’s marker at the Old County Courthouse in downtown Monroe is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation honoring black men who worked, willingly or not, for the Confederacy.
One of Rice’s daughters, Valerie Hall Frazier of Archdale, said Friday her mother would have been pleased with all of the attention at the memorial. Rice’s cremated remains will be buried at the grave of her father, Wary Clyburn.
Rice, who died last month at 91 in High Point, embraced her Confederate roots and belonged to several Southern heritage groups. She is believed to be among the last people in North Carolina who had an enslaved parent.
“She absolutely adored her father, and she wanted his story told,” Frazier said.
During the Civil War, Clyburn ran away from his plantation to join his master’s son in the Confederate Army and worked as his bodyguard and cook. Clyburn died in 1930 at age 90, when Rice was about 8 years old.
Rice spent decades searching for information about his story and often was met with discouragement from disbelieving bureaucrats. But she persevered and kept up that work until the end.
“She was determined,” Frazier said. “She was her father’s daughter.”
A controversial subject
It’s impossible to know how many of the Union County men willingly went to war or were forced into service. Most were around 90 years old when they began receiving pensions in the late 1920s, half a century after white North Carolina veterans got theirs.
The 10 were listed in records as “body servants” or bodyguards, and performed such work as carrying water, hauling supplies or helping build forts. Virtually no black men fought in battle for the Confederacy, historians have said, although slave labor was extensively used for support and logistical work.
In interviews with the Observer, Rice dismissed concerns that some historians held about promoting “black Confederates” while downplaying slavery’s central role in the Civil War.
“There’s been slavery since the beginning of time,” she said before the 2012 ceremony. “ I’m not bitter about it, and I do not think my father would be bitter about it.”
Tony Way, a local amateur historian and Sons of Confederate Veterans member who led the marker initiative, is helping organize the memorial. He said a couple hundred people may attend the 2 p.m. service at Hillcrest Cemetery.
The former congressman scheduled to attend is Ben Jones, who played Cooter on the “Dukes of Hazzard.” He is now chief of heritage operations for the SCV. The SCV and the Order of the Confederate Rose is paying for Rice’s marker, Way said.
High Point Mayor James Davis and Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore both proclaimed Saturday as “Mattie Clyburn Rice Day” in their cities, and called her “a real daughter of the Confederacy.”
“Mattie Clyburn Rice devoted her life to Southern history,” Kilgore stated in his proclamation. “(And) we honor a woman whose dedication to the truth will live on for many generations.”