Professor Seeks to Solve the Mystery of the Man Who Claimed to Be the Last Surviving Slave

magee-sylvesterSylvester Magee died in Columbia, Mississippi, in 1971. He claimed he was born a slave in 1841 and after securing his freedom was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. While these claims are unsubstantiated, if true, the 130-year-old Sylvester Magee was not only the last surviving American slave, he was the last living Civil War veteran.

Max Grivno, an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, recently discovered a box of materials on Magee that had been donated to the archives of the University of Southern Mississippi in 2013. The box of materials collected by amateur historian A.P. Andrews had been unopened for more than 40 years.

The materials includes photos, letters, notes, and oral histories. Most of the contents of the box was information about Magee’s family not the man himself. There were no materials that either substantiated or disproved Magee’s claims.

Dr. Grivno notes that in the oral history recordings of Magee conducted by A.P. Andrews, the questioner asks extremely leading questions. “Clearly, Magee is telling Andrews what he wants to hear,” Dr. Grivno states.

Dr. Grivno is the author of Gleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave Labor Along the Mason-Dixon Line, 1790-1860 (University of Illinois Press, 2011). He plans to continue his research to find the truth about Sylvester Magee.

Related Articles


Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Three African Americans Appointed to New Academic Positions

Leon Prieto, Kofi Afrifah, and Andrea Moore have been appointed to new academic positions at Clayton University, Bowie State University, and Savannah State University, respectively.

Historic HBCU Landmark Revitalized Through National Park Service Grant

Through three restoration grants totaling $2 million, the Rosenwald Practice School and Principal House will be fully restored, becoming the new home for the Northeastern North Carolina African American Research and Cultural Heritage Institute.

Five Black Leaders Appointed to Administrative Positions

Here is this week’s roundup of African American who have been appointed to new administrative positions at colleges and universities throughout the United States. If you have news for our appointments section, please email the information to

North Carolina A&T University Establishes Research Partnership with Collins Aerospace

“There are direct relations to the research we do in the College of Engineering and the mission purpose of Collins Aerospace,” said Stephanie Luster-Teasley, interim dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. “Being able to partner with Collins really gives our students the opportunities for hands-on research at each level – undergraduate and graduate.”

Featured Jobs