Black History Spotlight: How this Man Went from Slave to Congressman Will Blow Your Mind

BY: - 11 Feb '16 | inspiration

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Robert Smalls2Feature

If you know anything about Black History, you’ve heard of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. You’ve heard of Nat Turner and his, soon to be Hollywood depicted, uprising. But, have you heard of Robert Smalls? No, I mean really heard of Robert Smalls?

Born into slavery in 1839, Smalls grew up on a Beaufort, South Carolina plantation at 511 Prince Street. At 19, he met and married Hannah Jones. Though he was a mulatto and treated better than his fellow slaves, Robert’s mother had taken measures to ensure he understood the plight of the Negro in America.

So, at a young age, he spoke up and often against slavery and found himself behind bars on numerous occasions. Thus, the volatility of his freedom and the freedom of his family prompted Smalls to begin a plan that might seem like something ‘Straight Outta Hollywood’.

He is considered a hero and took part in about 17 military assaults.

You see, by the time Smalls turned 22, the country’s racial tension had reached its peak and America’s Civil War began. Now the father of two, Smalls wanted to buy his freedom and that of his family but needed a total of $800 to do so. He had $100, an amount he’d saved from the $1 per week he’d been given of his earnings. The rest had been taken by his master.

Even before working on the steamship, The Planter, which delivered arms to the Confederate ports, Smalls became an excellent sailor. Many thought, whether by stature or looks, that he favored the ship’s captain. This turned out to be a blessing.

On the night of May 13, 1862, Captain Rylea and the two other white officers assigned to the Planter went ashore. Smalls saw an opportunity, and, along with several other slaves aboard the ship, seized the moment to escape. He secured his wife, children and 12 other slaves and brilliantly sailed 7 miles past 3 confederate forts, including Fort Sumter, and into the Union Navy blockade.

This was no small feat as there were specific call signals that needed to be given in order for Smalls to make it past the Confederate Army. Fortunately, Smalls, disguised in Captain Rylea’s straw hat, knew the signals and his disguise aided his efforts.

Robert Smalls

For surrendering the confederate ship to the union Navy, Smalls was given $1,500. He purchased not only the freedom of his family, but the house of his former slave owners at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, South Carolina. He won an audience with then President Lincoln, recruited nearly 5,000 African American men to fight in the Union Navy, and eventually served as a captain on the Planter.

He is considered a hero and took part in about 17 military assaults. He soon began earning over $150 per month, making him one of the most highly paid black soldiers at that time.

After the war, he became a politician and won the election to represent South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives where he served non-consecutive terms between 1868 and 1889. His efforts to support the black community continued there as he advocated tirelessly for the political rights of African Americans. He died in 1915 at his home at 511 Prince Street. In 2010, he was inducted into South Carolina’s Hall of Fame.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. Robert Smalls. Take a look at the short video below.

BMWK, what do you think of Robert Smalls? How much had you heard about him?

About the author

Joann Fisher wrote 156 articles on this blog.

Joann Fisher has been a writer and editor for both print and online newpapers and magazines for the last 10 years. She now serves as a Writer/Editor at BMWK and lead Editor for The Joy Network.


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3 Ways to Honor Black History Heroes within Your Own Family

BY: - 22 Feb '16 | inspiration

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As we celebrate Black History Month, I’m sure you don’t have to look very far to find someone within your own family to honor. We often celebrate the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Madam CJ Walker, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks and the countless others who made our Black History so rich. However, consider celebrating those individuals who achieved great feats within your own family. Look at your family tree. Are there accomplishments or endeavors from your own grandmother or grandfather that are worth passing on to your children? What history exists right within your own family?  Here are three ways to honor your family’s black history:

1.    Talk to the older generation.

Write down the stories they share. Pass the stories along to your children, nieces and nephews.  In my own family, my mother always shared how she had to move away from home as a young teen to finish school because the system would not send a bus to pick up, “just one little black girl who wanted an education.” At the first home where she boarded, the father there was “fresh” with her, and she had to move on. She boarded with another family and went home on the weekends. My mother did graduate high school and received a scholarship to college but didn’t go because her parents could not afford the books. My mother fought for her high school education. To me, that’s black history. Something to be passed on to my children and their children after that. This is a story that can help them take pride in their schooling and not take it for granted. What stories can you pass on to your children?

2.    Have a multigenerational gathering.

Close the generational divide, and bring everyone together. Allow the older generation to tell their stories. If your family is anything like mine, then the family seniors will love to account tales of the past. All they need is a listening ear. I’m sure every older black person in the United States can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Ask the elders in your family and allow yourself to truly become fully engaged in their responses. That family history is not to be forgotten but passed along. Allow the younger generation to also participate in the story telling by sharing their thoughts about the first African American president or other current affairs.

3.    Trace your family lineage

Many of our children will have no idea where they came from if this history is not captured. Try your hand at collecting this information the old-fashioned way (interview family members, find public archives, hire a genealogist). Or sign up for an online ancestry account. There are fees associated with most of these websites, but their offerings may be worth it. They have the ability to quickly pull public records, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses. Some of the sites even offer DNA testing. One of the greatest tragedies of our time is losing the wealth of knowledge and information held within the minds of our elders. To lose this wisdom to the grave is senseless, but to gather it is priceless. Celebrating Black History within your family can be fun and rewarding for all. Gather this history before it’s too late.

What black history is held within your family tree? Share here.

About the author

Deborah L. Mills wrote 186 articles on this blog.

Coach, AUTHOR, Speaker, WIFE, Mom, and GRANDMOTHER. That's the gist of who I am. I love people and love to see their life and relationships thrive. As a coach I am ready to support your dream when you don't feel like it. As an author and speaker I am ready to pour into your life so that you can live your best life now. I am a personal and executive coach. Together with my husband I also marriage coach. GO TO MY WEBSITE. THERE IS A FREE GIFT THERE WAITING FOR YOU.


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