The daughter of a slave, Mattie Clyburn Rice was adamant about one thing: Her father was a Confederate soldier.
Before she died in September at the age of 91, Rice fought to get the Civil War service of her father, Weary Clyburn, recognized. “People didn’t believe her when she said he was a Confederate soldier,” Tony Way, a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, told The Associated Press. “She spent years searching records until she found his pension record approved by the state of North Carolina.”
Clyburn went to war with his master as a cook, and ended up saving his life when the pair came under fire. The pension record says that Clyburn’s “services were meritorious and faithful toward his master and the cause of the Confederacy.” However, a letter from June 18, 1930, states that the pension would not be given to his widow since “negro pensioners are not classified as Confederate Soldiers…” Historian Kevin Levin says that men like Clyburn were not soldiers, and were instead “dragged” into war. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t remember these men for who and what they were,” he told AP. “These were men forced to comply with their master’s wishes as they had always been forced to do.”
Clyburn was in his 80s when Rice was born. His obituary says he was laid to rest in “the Confederate uniform of gray;” it also called him “a white man’s darkey.” Rice’s ashes were buried at the foot of her father’s Monroe, North Carolina, grave on Saturday, as members of the United Daughters of Confederacy and a color guard of Confederate re-enactors looked on.