Statue of 'Robert Smalls, U.S. Congressman' -- The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Washington (DC) October 2016
"Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) was an enslaved African American who, during and after the American Civil War, gained freedom and became a ship's pilot, sea captain, and politician. He freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery on May 13, 1862, by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston (SC) harbor, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade. His example and persuasion helped convince President Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy.
Smalls was born in Beaufort (SC). After the American Civil War, he returned there and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era.
As a politician, Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. He founded the Republican Party of South Carolina. Due to the state's white Democrats disfranchising most blacks (who made up much of the Republican Party) in the post-Reconstruction era, Smalls was the last Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th congressional district until 2010.
With his first wife, Hannah Jones Smalls, Robert Smalls had three children; after Hannah dies in 1883, he married Annie Wigg, who bore him one son.
Smalls and his family were affiliated with the Baptist Church and attended Berean Baptist Church when living in Washington (DC).
Smalls died of malaria and diabetes in 1915 at the age of 75. He was buried in his family's plot in the churchyard of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in downtown Beaufort.
The monument to Smalls in this churchyard is inscribed with a statement he made to the South Carolina legislature in 1895: '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.'"