Robert Smalls: lesser-known BHM figures who revolutionized the culture.

G tha Journalist Avatar

It’s Black History Month y’all, and I wanted to educate some folks this month (and beyond, of course).

Now, I hope I’m not the only one who thinks this Black History month feels a little weird this year compared to others.

Yes, we know plenty about MLK, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and all the frontline pioneers of Black movements and history in the U.S.. 

But what about other Black figures? The lesser-known pioneers that may have opened that door for the legends we know and love?!

The reality is that February, dedicated to celebrating the history of Black folks in the U.S., is often not given the depth it deserves.

Too often, the month is marked by simple acknowledgments of Black history, such as generic statements and token displays of appreciation, without any genuine attempt to recognize and understand the struggles and successes of the Black community throughout history.

With that in mind, I want to put y’all on some game. 

One person, I bet y’all didn’t know, who changed the game when it came to Black history was Robert Smalls

Statue of Robert Smalls in the African American History Mueseum in D.C. / cred: Ron Cogswell

Now, you’re saying, who the hell is he?

Robert Smalls was an African-American born into slavery on April 5, 1839, in Beaufort, South Carolina. Smalls became a skilled navigator and was a trusted pilot of the Confederate-controlled CSS Planter in Charleston Harbor.

In other words, Smalls was like that when it came to boats, and they let him drive. 

Amid the Civil War, in 1862, Smalls did something crazy and made the bold move of hijacking the Planter, along with several other enslaved people and his own family, to Union-held waters.

And he did all this without getting caught y’all.

Smalls’s bravery pretty much brought the Civil War to an end in 1865. Smalls was later elected and served for the SC government. Following his time with the state, he was elected and served five terms in the U.S. Congress. 

But to top his historical accomplishments, Smalls was a powerful advocate for African-American civil rights and helped pass legislation that granted Black Americans the right to vote. 

It is important to recognize and appreciate these types of contributions of Black Americans to the United States while remembering those key figures along the way. 

So, we really have to educate ourselves to create safe spaces to learn about the struggles and successes of our people throughout history so that we ensure the full range of Black history is explored and celebrated.

But, yeah, Robert Smalls was that guy back in his day. 


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