• Sylvester Magee (May 29, 1841? – October 15, 1971)[1] was an African American who allegedly was the last former slave in the United States. His claim is undocumented and controversial. However, he received much publicity and was accepted for treatment by the Mississippi Veterans Hospital as a veteran of the American Civil War.

    Magee was born in North Carolina to slaves Ephraim and Jeanette, who worked on the J.J. Shanks plantation. Magee said that at age 19, just before the Civil War, he was purchased by Hugh Magee at a slave market at Enterprise, Mississippi. Hugh Magee owned the Lone Star Plantation in Covington County, Mississippi. One source indicates that Magee was sold to Victory Steen, who operated a plantation near Florence, Mississippi. Magee claimed that in 1863 he ran away from the Steen plantation and enlisted in the Union Army, taking part in the assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi. He said, “I was 22 years old, and all I had ever known was plowing, scraping and picking cotton, sawing logs and doing other things on a farm. But 382 blacks and 500 whites were given long-barrel rifles, many of them in the same boat as me. One poor white boy cried most of the time. I tried to comfort him, telling him he hadn't done nuthin to nobody and the good Lord just wouldn't let nothing happen to him. But he cried right on.” Magee claimed to have been wounded at both Vicksburg and Champion Hill. At the war's end, Magee returned to Marion County, Mississippi as a “freed man”. He farmed near Columbia with a white farmer, Tom Mix. He later moved to Hattiesburg and did odd jobs until the early 1900s, when he returned to Marion County. He worked for Richard Davis in a sawmill in East Columbia. Magee supervised the mill in Davis's absence, and earned $10.00 a week.

    On Magee's purported 124th birthday, the citizens of Collins, Mississippi held a party at a country grocery store, complete with a five layer cake and 124 candles. Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr. declared it “Sylvester Magee Day”. Many national news articles told about his life and longevity, including Time and Jet. He appeared on the Mike Douglas Show and was flown to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for another televised appearance. He was proclaimed as the oldest living United States citizen by a life insurance company, and he received birthday cards from two sitting U.S. presidents, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson.

    Although much documentation is lost or possibly never existed, some sources suggest that Magee may have served in both the Confederate and Union armies. Alfred P. Andrews, founder of the Jackson Civil War Round Table and its president elect for 1965-66, helped Magee be declared a Civil War veteran despite the fact that no service records for him can be found. In March, 1966, when Magee was suffering from pneumonia, Andrews who helped him obtain treatment from the Mississippi Veterans Hospital.[citation needed]

    As to his claim of being more than 120, Jet Magazine wrote:

    There is no birth certificate to verify his birth date, but records in the probate division of the Chancery Court in Covington County, dated February, 1859, show Magee and his father, Ephriam were owned by slave-owner Hugh Magee. Magee insisted that May 29, 1841, was his birth date and that he was sold to Hugh Magee’s father, who died in 1859. Magee said he obtained freedom after the fall of Vicksburg and served with Union troops. Some historians have stated it would have been impossible for a person who neither reads nor writes to have related the stories of the Civil War in such detail as Magee without having served in the conflict. One historian stated that Magee talked with “rare intelligence and seldom rambled” in telling of his participation in the Civil War.

    Sylvester Magee died on October 15, 1971 in Columbia, Mississippi. His funeral was held at John the Baptist Missionary Church on October 19, 1971, after which he was laid to rest in Pleasant Valley Church Cemetery in nearbyFoxworth.

    From Wikipedia