10 Black Heroes Who Usually Go Unrecognized During Black History Month, But Shouldn’t

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Robert Smalls Brady Handy

Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – Feb. 23, 1915)

Robert Smalls was an African-American born into slavery in Beaufort, S.C., but during and after the American Civil War, he became a ship’s pilot, sea captain, and politician.

He freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery on May 13, 1862, when 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 Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

As a politician, Smalls authored state legislation that gave South Carolina the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States.

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