DETROIT ARSENAL -- Warren, Michigan The Detroit Arsenal observed Black History Month Feb. 20 with a guest speaker who spoke about her late husband's life experiences.

Patricia McClary spoke about how Robert Curtiss McClary grew up in the 1930s, living in a small village of former slave cabins located at Hobcaw Barony, South Carolina.

"Bob's family spent their life there," stated Patricia. "It wasn't a former slave cabin with no plumbing or no electricity. It was home, it was family, and it was love."

According to, a web site that chronicles the history of the plantation, many former slaves and their descendants remained on low-country plantations after emancipation. They continued to produce rice until the early 20th century. Their low wages were offset by subsistence farming, employee housing and food from the woods and waters. Several former slave villages at Hobcaw Barony were occupied until after World War II.

It was in these villages that McClary spent his childhood and was a favorite of the plantation superintendent stated Patricia. The superintendent encouraged all the children at Hobcaw to go to school and that is where Robert began his lifelong love of learning. He later moved to Detroit and earned both a Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees from Wayne State University.

"My husband Robert McClary was truly a trailblazer," said Patricia. "We were married 33 years and he was a great advocate of learning and education."

Robert served in the Korean War and returned to Detroit to become one of the first African American members of the Detroit Fire Department in 1957 and one of the first African American fire inspectors in 1964. He retired in 1984 as the first African American captain of the Detroit Fire Department arson squad.

Robert passed in late 2015 but his story lives on through his memoirs and his participation in a multi-media history project with South Caroline Educational Television. The project titled "Between the Waters" captures the stories and history of Hobcaw Barony which is now a 16,000 acre research reserve. More information about this project is available at