Monday, January 31, 2011

Biggie is NOT my favorite Smalls

In today's blog I chose to reach back to the Civil War Era for this black history profile. One of my favorite people from the Civil War/ Reconstruction Era is Robert Smalls. Born a slave in South Carolina, Smalls grew to become a Civil War Hero and United States Congressman.

April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915

Robert Smalls was born on April 5th, 1839 in Beaufort, SC as the only child to his mother Lydia Smalls in a slave cabin in the back of the plantation of John K. McKee. The identity of his father is unknown but he is believed to be sired by a white man. His mother worked as a house slave for McKee. Growing up Smalls spent a lot of time with John McKee. According to his interview with the Freedmans Inquiry Commission, Smalls says that he was treated relatively well during his time as a house slave. Remember that is relative to the treatment of a slave.

At age 12 a young Robert was sent to Charleston by McKee to hire himself out for pay. Where McKee would take almost all of Smalls pay except for $1. During this time he learned to a variety of job skills and worked as a waiter, ship rigger and sailor.

At the age of 18 Robert worked out a deal with his master where he kept all of his pay except $15 per month which he kicked back to McKee. This was already a unique situation but Smalls was no ordinary man. During this time he lived away from his plantation in his own place in Charleston. He also met and married Hannah Jones on December 24th, 1856. She was a 32 year old slave who worked as a hotel maid. After they were married she lived with Smalls and has a similar arrangement with her own. After the birth of their daughter Elizabeth Lydia, Robert worked out an agreement with her owner Samuel Kingman to buy his wife and child for $800. Kingman was caught a little off guard by Smalls considering that he was a slave but Robert figured he maybe a slave but he had money.

Civil War Breaks Out

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 the southern states began their plan of succession from the United States. South Carolina was the first state to leave the Union. This lead to the first shots of the Civil War being fired at Fort Sumter, SC. This drastically altered Smalls plan to earn enough money to purchase his family. In 1861 Robert began working as a deckhand on a transport steamer ship for the Confederate Navy called the Planter. He later became the ships pilot.

Eye on Freedom
Smalls determined to be free and have his family free comes up with a plan to escape. Knowing that the white crew retired to their homes in the evening leaving the black crew members to get the ship ready for the next day, Robert his brother John and other black crew members that they were going to escape. He told the families that planned to escape with them and they waited on their best opportunity to make a run for it. There were going to steal the Planter and use it to sail to the Union. Being that this was highly risky all that signed on decided that they would die rather than be caught. Using the ships guns to shoot out with the other Confederate ships.
On May 13th, 1862 the 23 year old Smalls took the Planter which was loaded with valuable supplies that were supposed to be delivered to Confederate ports. Along with his wife, children and 12 other slaves aboard Robert gave the correct whistle signal as he passed each rebel fort. He sailed to a Union blockading ship lowering the Confederate Flag and raising the white flag of surrender. He then presented the Planter and all of its supplies and guns as a gift to the Union. The media from the North hailed Smalls and his crew as heroes. The United States Congress ruled that the crew should receive half of the value of the prize they presented to the Union effort.

Civil War Hero
After delivery the ship to the US Navy, Robert Smalls was brought before Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, commander of the blockading squadron. He presented the Admiral valuable intelligence that would help aide North's efforts. He gave Du Pont a rebel naval code book, Charleston newspapers and information on the location of rebel troops. He also provided the information on how to navigate the southern water ways.
He the decided to enlist in the US Navy to help fight in the war against slavery. He was made a 2nd Lieutenant in the 33rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops where he was assigned to pilot the Planter.

In November 1863 the Planter was involved in a deadly fight with Confederate troops where the ship's Captain wanted to surrender. In true hero fashion, Smalls rallied the crew and urged the gunners to keep firing, saving the crew and the ship from capture. When word got back to military officials, they fired the captain and promoted Smalls to his position.

On to Congress
After the Civil War, Smalls decided to get involved in public service and help assisting his fellow South Carolina citizens with a new way of life. Smalls had no formal education and was taught to read by tutors after the Civil War. He became a major general in the South Carolina militia and a state legislator and United States House of Representative. During his time as a politician he helped draft the states Constitution. Smalls also help create in South Carolina the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. Robert was also the founder of the Republican Party of South Carolina. He was actually the last Republican to represent the 5th Congressional District from South Carolina until 2010.

Robert Smalls served five terms as a U.S. Congressman during Reconstruction. For nearly 20 years he served as U. S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort, S.C. Another testament to the strength of Smalls is that he bought and lived on the plantation that he grew up on as a slave.

After Reconstruction ended in 1877, and Southern Democrats trying to back political control in the South, they accused Smalls of bribery and corruption to damage his reputation. He was convicted on bribery charges in connection with a printing contract that he awarded. He was later pardoned in an agreement that pardoned the Democrats from election fraud charges.
Smalls was deeply active in politics into the 2oth century, speaking against the disenfranchisement of black voters.

Smalls died in 1915 at the age of 75. He was buried in his family's plot in downtown Beaufort.

My race needs no special defense,
for the past history of them in this country
proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere.
All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life

Robert Smalls - November 1, 1895

Web Sources

Its Black History Month / Carter G. Woodson

We have arrived at the 1st day of February in the year 2011. Which means we have arrived at another Black History month. I figured that it was time to bring back the Social Study blog.
A lot of people like to joke they Black people the shortest month with February, that is simply not true and stop repeating it before people believe you. To open up this month, I figured that I would profile the man responsible for Black History month.

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)
The founder of Black History Month

Carter Godwin Woodson was born in 1875 on a small farm in New Canton, Virgina. As the son of former slaves Woodson showed a thrist for learning early in life. He worked in mines and quarries until the age of 20 when he decided pursue his education.

At the age of 22 Carter received his high school diploma and from there he attended Berea College in Kentucky. He ultimately obtained his B.A from the University of Chicago in 1907. He went on to receive his Ph. D in History from Harvard University in 1912. At that time he was only the 2nd African American to have earned such a degree. He also studied Sorbornne University in Paris, France where he became fluent in French. Dr Woodson taught and held administrative post in the Philippines, West Virgina State College and at Howard University.

Dr Woodson was a member of the Niagara Movement and columnist for Marcus Garvey's weekly publication, The Negro World. He also the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He maybe best known for his book "The Mis-Education o fthe Negro" originally published in 1933 and is still relevant today.

In 1926 Woodson began the annual February observance of Negro History Week. February was chosen by Dr Woodson because Abraham Lincoln's birthday was on the 12th and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Fredrick Douglass. In regards to Douglass (accepted) is because he was born a slave and slaves did not have accurate birth records. It is also the month that the NAACP was founded. It was was not until the 1960's that Black History Week was taken seriously outside the of the educated African American community and converted into Black History month.

In Woodson's words "Besides building self-esteem among blacks,(Black History Week) would help eliminate prejudice among whites."

Web Pages

DVD's to Check out At your local Library

Eyes on The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1954-1965
Crucibles of Courage

Black History: From Civil War Through Today