Many families here in North Carolina have passed down stories about the experiences of their ancestors during the Civil War. For most people, those tales are a link to a distant past that spans generations. But for one small group of elderly women who are actually the daughters of Confederate soldiers, that history is very much a part of their own life story.
Effie Phipps Whittle is a woman who's led a happy life. Every day without fail, the spry eighty-eight year old pushes her walker swiftly through the halls of the sprawling rest home where she lives in Greensboro to check up on her friends.
Effie Whittle: "Nosey. I like to be nosey. "
Whittle likes to share the story of her father, the Civil War veteran Robert Sanders Phipps, who died in 1924. She remembers playing hide-and-seek with the old fashioned watch her father moved from one waistcoat pocket to the next.
Whittle: "So that watch might be up here, and it might be down here. Hey you know me I wanted to find which one it was to see if I could find it real quick."
Whittle was five when her father died at the age of 78. She had a hard time explaining her dad's history to the other kids at school.
Whittle: "First of all they looked at me like I was screwed up real bad. And then when I'd start to say, a daughter of a real Confederate soldier. You're what? And this goes on and on and on. You mean grand, not daughter, and I just heard that till I was sick and tired of hearing it. "
But there's one group of people who've always believed Whittle's story- the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In its heyday in the early 1900s, it was the preeminent social organization for white women in the South. It's dedicated to preserving the honor of male ancestors who fought in the war. The group recognizes Whittle as one of 23 officially titled "Real Daughters" of the Confederacy.
Whittle: "I just always thought it was real special. Just weren't that many around first of all. "
These days, the UDC keeps close track of the Real Daughters who're left. That's Gail Crosby's job with the national organization. Real Daughters must prove who they are by presenting detailed geneaological records. But Crosby says for years, many of the Daughters were reluctant to be recognized.
Gail Crosby: "We had one in Florida a number of years ago, and she was most embarrassed. She did not want anyone to know that her father was a Confederate veteran, because he was quite elderly when she was born. Usually the mothers of these ladies would be a second or third wife, much younger than the veteran. So the father would be up way up in years when this child or her siblings were born."
Crosby says the Real Daughters deserve to be supported emotionally and financially. UDC members across the country send the Daughters gifts, cards and checks on their birthdays. And a century-old relief fund for the families of Confederate soldiers is there to help Real Daughters on very limited incomes. But for many of the women, just knowing their fathers are recognized for their Civil War service is the greatest reward. Mattie Clyburn Rice is eighty-eight years old.
Mattie Rice and Jessica Jones: "This is a picture of my father right here. He's playing the fiddle. Yeah, he was a violin player. And he's dressed up, wearing a formal suit with a vest and he has a medal on his jacket."
Rice is African-American. She was the youngest and favorite child of her father, Wary Clyburn. He was born into slavery. When Rice was little, her father told her he ran away with his master's son to serve in the war. Wary Clyburn died when his little girl was just ten. As an adult, Rice went from one archive to the next trying to prove her father's story.
Rice: "People are just beginning to believe me. Nobody believed me, nobody, not even the children, they are just beginning to believe me, cause now they see it in print- nobody believed me. The first time I went to the archives in Washington I had to be fingerprinted."
But eventually Rice was able to find her father's pension record. Enslaved blacks were conscripted for all kinds of heavy labor for the Confederate Army, even though African-Americans weren't formally enlisted until the very tail end of the war. Rice was invited to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy a few years ago- she says she wishes her father could see her now.
Rice: "Things has changed so much down through the years. I think if he was living, he would be proud, and he could believe it."
Rice is still working to find out more about her father and where his parents came from. But she says now at least everyone knows who her father was and believes his story.