The Story of Robert Smalls

To celebrate Black History Month, I decided to search for an inspirational black person who does not get enough recognition for their actions. I came across Robert Smalls and decided his story was worth telling. 

He was born April 5, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina to a Lydia Polite. She was enslaved by Henry McKee who remains the most likely candidate to be Smalls’ father. Smalls was favoured over the other slaves so his mother requested that he was made to work in the fields so that he would have the experience of working. 

He was a slave, however he escaped to freedom and brought his friends and their families out of slavery as well, by commandeering CSS Planter which was a Confederate transport ship. He took it from the Charleston harbour on May 13 in 1862 and he sailed it across Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade. This was during the American Civil War. 

Robert Smalls’ actions were so significant that his example convinced the then President, Abraham Lincoln (the 16th President of the US) to accept African-American soldiers into the Army and the Navy. 

He fought in 17 wars before his death – including but not limited to the Blockade of Charleston, Battle of Simmon’s Bluff and Sherman’s March to the Sea. He showed incredible ship piloting skills. 

Smalls’ achievements don’t end there. As well as being a ship’s pilot he was also a sea captain, and politician.

After the American Civil War ended he returned to his hometown to become a politician. He won the election to the South Carolina State legislature as a Republican. During his time, Smalls authorised the first free and compulsory public school system in the whole of the United States. He also founded his very own party which was the Republican Party of South Carolina.

I believe that his actions should be more recognised because it breaks the narrative of black people that are created by the media and encourages black children to find new and inventive ways of reaching their goals. 

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