Reshared from a +Yonatan Zunger
post who reshared it from +Andreas Schou
who added the following information:
I just want to amplify what Tshaka Armstrong
said about how awesome Robert Smalls was. Just to give you some details which fall between the big bullet points here:
* Born into slavery.
* Started out with seriously unpleasant menial jobs. Taught himself to read. More importantly, taught himself navigational trigonometry. This is not simple to do yourself. This is especially not simple to do when you grew up speaking Gullah creole, and your first exposure to standard-dialect English was when you were ten.
* In general, was seriously awful at being a slave. Ran away. Resold tobacco and candy to make money his master didn't have access to. Bailed out of slave lockup over and over again because, despite the fact he never took to the whip, he was too competent to punish.
* Stole a Confederate ship. Sailed off with it. Gave it to the Union.
* Pushed for Congress to pay him the bounty, and was paid about $37,000 for it. Which is to say, "more money than a slave would likely see in five lifetimes."
* Joined the US Navy. Which is notable, because the US Navy was not admitting black sailors at this point.
* Convinced the US Army to admit black soldiers. You know. Like you do.
* Oh, did I mention that all of this happened before he turned 23? Because it all did.
* Assigned to pilot an experimental ironclad steamship in an attack on Charleston harbor. This fails. The ship sinks. Smalls is nonetheless commended for bravery.
* Reassigned to the Planter, the ship he stole less than two years ago, with some of the black crew which originally stole it. The captain of the Planter, caught in crossfire between Confederate and Union ships, attempts to surrender to the Confederates.
* Decided he's going to have none of that, because black soldiers and sailors are killed on capture. Sails the ship back to the Union lines against his captain's orders, saving the lives of his black crew.
* Commended for bravery again. And promoted. Which makes him the first black naval captain in US history. He's actually captain of the Planter, the ship he stole less than two years ago.
* The war ends.
* Used the money he got from stealing Confederate ships to buy the house he lived in when he was a slave. Moves in. Runs for Congress.
* Kept running for Congress. Kept winning. Became the longest-serving black Congressman until the late 20th century.
* Reconstruction ended. Gerrymandering, poll violence, and the like keep him from running again.
* Stayed active in politics. Attempted to return the black vote to South Carolina. Fails, but consider that this is precisely the sort of thing which would get you lynched between the years of 1876 and 1920.
* Appointed to be customs inspector. Which, again: this is a math-heavy job, and Smalls had no formal education.
Name an important thing which a human being could have done between the Civil War and World War I, and Smalls did it. He didn't just rise up from poverty: he rose up from the most abject position an American could be consigned to, and just ... kept rising. Even after the tragedy that ended Reconstruction, he somehow managed to keep his head above water.
He died the owner of the house in which he had been a slave, serving the country which had both rewarded and betrayed him.
I'll just add to it: Hot Damn, what a guy! I want a big budget Hollywood movie made out of this! I want it to be so good it wins all the major Oscars for it.