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Honoring Black Heritage Month: Robert Smalls

As we celebrate Black Heritage Month, we are reminded of the countless contributions that Black people and African Americans have made to our nation’s tapestry of history. Today, we would like to spotlight one of the most remarkable yet hidden-figured black heroes of our time: Robert Smalls.

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Robert Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina South Carolina was a state that was infamous for its especially inhumane treatment of the African American population. Despite the shackles of enslavement, Smalls was an invincible man. As I did my research at, I found that from a young age, Smalls was forced to work as a stevedore in Charleston, South Carolina. He was responsible for loading and unloading cargo from ships. It was in this capacity that he was assigned to the Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter. The CSS Planter was a formidable vessel, armed to the teeth and tasked with ferrying supplies and ammunition to Confederate forces.

According to Memoirs of the War of Secession, just before dawn on May 13, 1862, Smalls saw an opportunity to seize control of the ship and escape to freedom. Small’s fellow crew members brought their families and helped Smalls take hold of the ship. Smalls expertly navigated the CSS Planter past Confederate fortifications and out to open water with 16 Black passengers. Smalls’ incredible bravery was a turning point in the Civil War. He had managed to provide valuable intelligence to the Union army about Confederate fortifications and the harbor defenses of Charleston, and he had done so with remarkable cunning and aplomb. He also successfully freed 16 enslaved people. He was quickly hailed as a hero in the North, and his story became one of the most widely-told tales of the Underground Railroad. 

Acts of the General Assembly of South Carolina show us that after the war, Smalls used his newfound freedom to become an influential leader and politician in his home state of South Carolina. He served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and later in the United States House of Representatives, where he fought tirelessly for justice and equal rights for enslaved Black people and African Americans He advocated for equal education and voting rights. He was a key figure in the Reconstruction era and helped to lay the foundation for the modern Civil Rights Movement. 

Robert Smalls’ legacy is a testament to the power of determination, bravery, justice, and resilience of African American and Black History. He stands as a shining example of Black excellence and power. His story inspires us all, reminding us that even in the face of oppression and adversity, one person can make a difference. We hope that by sharing his story and the stories of other unsung black heroes, we can inspire future generations to continue the fight for equality and justice for all.

As we celebrate African American and Black Heritage Month, let us take the time to honor the contributions of Robert Smalls and other hidden black figures who have paved the way for future generations. Let us never forget their sacrifices and the obstacles they overcame to make our world a better place. Their stories are an enduring reminder of the power of the Black spirit, and they serve as a call to action for us all to continue the work of creating a more just and equitable society.

Works Cited

Roberts Smalls. “History.” Roberts Smalls, 24 Apr. 2017,

“African American Biographies.” Google Books, Google,

“African American Lives.” Google Books, Google,

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