Robert Smalls was an African American born into slavery in Beaufort, S.C., but during and after the Civil War, he became a ship’s pilot, sea captain, and politician.
Smalls freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery on May 13, 1862. He led an uprising aboard a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston Harbor and sailed it north to freedom. His feat successfully helped persuade President Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.
His legacy extends even further, though. Since, as a politician, Smalls authored state legislation that gave South Carolina the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States.
We salute you, Robert Smalls, this Black History Month and all year long.