Robert Smalls is a larger than life character who challenged all the narratives thrown at Black people during Reconstruction – that they lacked capacity to fight, serve, and govern. Smails escaped from slavery during the Civil War by taking an armed Confederate ship to freedom with his wife Hannah and 14 others. He taught himself to read and write after winning his freedom and in 1868, during the South Carolina Constitutional Convention, helped craft a policy that created the first US free public schools for all children. Late in life, he housed the family that had enslaved him. Despite having a bounty on his head at 23, he died peacefully in his sleep at age 75.

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