A TRULY HISTORIC DAY, A STIRRING TRIBUTE TO A BEAUTIFUL SOUL, AND A MEDIA BLACKOUT
By Ben Jones, SCV Chief of Heritage Operations
This past Saturday, at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Monroe, North Carolina a memorial service of major historic importance took place. The ashes of Mrs. Mattie Clyburn Rice were placed next to the grave of her father, Weary Clyburn. Mr. Clyburn was born in 1841 and was a combatant in the American Civil War and passed away in 1932. His daughter, Mrs. Rice, passed on September 1st of this year, two weeks before what would have been her 91st birthday. The service was to remember "Miss Mattie" and to dedicate to her a permanent memorial.
The memorial service was a day of tears and laughter, and a day of reflection, pageantry, music, and praise. It was a memorable occasion for a beautiful soul.
Between them, the lives of father and daughter encompassed the greater part of the American Experience. When Weary Clyburn was born, there were still many alive who had fought in the American Revolution. When his daughter died, the space age had taken men to the moon and beyond, and the digital revolution had enabled the entire planet to instantly connect. During this Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, one would have expected such a memorial tribute as this to gain the attention of the major television networks, the cable news networks, and the major regional and national newspapers.
Certainly serious historians of the era would be there to mark the occasion, for
this wonderful lady had heard of the war first hand from the stories of her beloved father, and she had honored his heritage with devotion and courage.
But the event took place in a virtual blackout of media coverage. There were, to my knowledge, two reporters from the Monroe area there, but nothing beyond that. The nation did not get to hear about "Miss Mattie" and her devotion to her father's memory. The historic importance of this family went virtually unnoticed by the media.
There was, however, an Associated Press story about the Memorial on the day before the service. And that nationally distributed story is indicative of the "mainstream media's" approach to what can only be called "political correctness". Nothing else can explain the "hatchet job" on the passing of this beautiful soul. For you see, Weary Clyburn was a slave, and he served for the Confederacy, and he received a pension for his service to the Southern Army. But the story told to the nation by the Associated Press says that he was surely forced into service by his master.
And that, according to Weary and his daughter Mattie, is a lie.
According to "Miss Mattie", her father went into the war with his friend, Frank Weary, and served as his bodyguard for four years. In one battle, Weary saved the wounded Frank's life by carrying him over his shoulders to safety. A granddaughter of Frank Weary spoke heartfelt thanks for this act to Weary's descendants at the Memorial Service.
For that Associated Press story, the reporter, Martha Waggoner, interviewed a man identified as a "blogger", a man who is a high school teacher from New Jersey who lives in Massachusetts. Claiming to be a "historian", this blogger has said that Mrs. Rice had promulgated a hoax, and that it was not true that men like Weary Clyburn had supported the Confederacy because Weary Clyburn was a slave. Never mind what the man Weary Clyburn himself said. The blogger, a man named Kevin Levin, thinks he knows the minds of Southern people who lived in the 1840's better than they knew it. In choosing to interview a blogger who is best known as an avowed anti-Southern propagandist, the A.P. reporter has insulted the memory of Mrs. Rice and her father and brought great pain to her family and to the many friends who knew this wonderful lady.
Of course, the "reporter" did not bother to cover the actual event and talk to Mrs. Rice's children and grandchildren. She and her colleagues were nowhere in sight. She had "covered" the story with a phone call to a self-obsessed Massachusetts blogger.
It is an outrageous and disturbing piece of "reporting". How anyone could slander this father and daughter is beyond comprehension, but that is exactly what "reporter" Martha Waggoner and "blogger" Kevin Levin managed to do.
Ms. Waggoner could have easily contacted any number of serious, respected historians of the American Civil War in North Carolina. Instead she seemed to "cherry-pick" a blogger devoted to attacking Southern heritage and gave him the final word.
But we can speak up for Weary Clyburn and "Miss Mattie" just as she spoke up for us.
Please e-mail Ms. Waggoner at MWaggoner@ap.org and tell her politely that her story was clearly biased and insulting to the memory of Mattie Clyburn Rice and her family. Tell her, as nicely as possible, that she should apologize to every one of "Miss Mattie's" family members, and especially to the memory of Weary Clyburn and his indomitable daughter, Mattie Clyburn Rice.