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  • How did a 22 year old slave

  • meet President Lincoln

  • and convince him to let black people

  • fight for their freedom?

  • Well, that's a hell of a tale, so listen up.

  • Robert Smalls grew up a slave in Charleston, South Carolina,

  • where his master rented him out

  • to work on a cotton steamer called the Planter,

  • where Smalls became a sail maker

  • and developed a love of the sea.

  • I'm king of the world!

  • I'm sorry, did I say king? I meant slave.

  • I'm slave of the world!

  • [playing tune]

  • [Hart] As the South seceded from the Union,

  • the Planter was converted into a gunship.

  • On April 12th, 1861, the Confederate Navy

  • opened fire on Fort Sumter,

  • which was still held by the Union Army

  • and the Civil War began.

  • By this time Smalls was so skilled,

  • he was trusted to be the wheelman,

  • A.K.A. the pilot of the Planter.

  • [cannonball approaches, crashes]

  • He knew Charleston Harbor better than anyone,

  • and loved piloting the Planter,

  • although he wasn't exactly keen on fighting

  • to preserve the Southern way of life.

  • Fire!

  • Damnation, we missed!

  • Whoops! Hit a manatee. Sorry!

  • [Hart] The Planter's captain was C.J. Relyea...

  • Smalls!

  • ...who had no idea that Smalls

  • was hatching a secret plan.

  • About 3:00 AM on May 13th, 1862,

  • the Planter was left unattended,

  • and Smalls made his move.

  • Disguising himself in the captain's clothes,

  • he steamed away from the Charleston port.

  • About an hour and a half later,

  • he reached the first Confederate Navy checkpoint

  • at Fort Sumter.

  • He'd studied the captain's body language

  • and used the signals the sentry would be looking for.

  • Captain Relyea?

  • What y'all doing out here at this ungodly hour?

  • Uh...

  • What's the matter, skipper? Cat got your tongue? Hmm?

  • Here we go. Ahem.

  • [imitating captain] Greenhorn spoon, I say.

  • I merely had momentary mucus nugget

  • lodged in my esophageal area.

  • Well, sorry to hear it, sir.

  • My throat's been botherin' me as well.

  • Can I offer you a lozenge, sir?

  • Oh, no, don't trouble yourself.

  • Oh, it's no trouble at all.

  • I'll hop in the dingy, row it out to you posthaste.

  • No, no, please, I insist.

  • -Cherry flavored. -Not a fan.

  • -I got honey lemon, too. -Blech.

  • -Mentholyptus? -Enough.

  • -But, sir--! -I hate lozenges, okay?

  • Good day, sir.

  • CSS Planter, cleared for passage.

  • [Hart] After he got past that checkpoint,

  • he got to step two of his plan--

  • a prearranged rendezvous with a bunch of other slaves

  • and their families, including his wife and his son.

  • Thank you, Captain Relyea.

  • Captain Relyea? Son, it's me, your daddy.

  • Oh, thank you, Daddy!

  • [Hart] With the slaves onboard,

  • Smalls got through three more checkpoints

  • and then, as dawn broke,

  • Smalls sailed North for the Union Naval blockade

  • just north of Charleston Harbor.

  • But when the Union captain

  • spotted the Confederate gunship coming at 'em,

  • he got a little jumpy.

  • Fire!

  • [crash]

  • [groans]

  • What the--? John, I told you, fly that sheet up the flagpole.

  • I'm sorry, man. I'm really diggin'

  • on this thread count right now.

  • Run it up the mast, you idiot!

  • Come on, man, I been sleepin' on burlap all my life!

  • Now, John!

  • -I'm naked up under here. -I don't give a damn.

  • [Hart] The Union ships saw the surrender sign

  • and held their fire.

  • Minutes later, the men, women, and children

  • on the Planter were free at last.

  • Congratulations, you're all free.

  • [cheers, applause]

  • Thank you, sir.

  • And, in addition to our own freedom,

  • I hope that the Planter may be of some use to Uncle Abe

  • to help the fight for those we left behind.

  • It will.

  • I love you, Captain Relyea.

  • [scoffs]

  • Oh, right.

  • I love you, Daddy.

  • What's wrong with that kid?

  • He thought his dad was someone else

  • just because he was wearing a hat?

  • Hey, listen, a minimal disguise

  • can be surprisingly effective.

  • Look, watch this.

  • See this right here? Clark Kent.

  • Right?

  • Superman. See how that works?

  • But they're comic book characters.

  • Yeah, but what we just saw was a sketch comedy reenactment.

  • I think they added the thing with a hat as a joke.

  • Oh, I see.

  • But the basic story was true.

  • No, 100%. Anyway, listen to me.

  • Robert Smalls' story just gets better from there.

  • When he turned that ship over to the Union,

  • the government gave him a reward of $1,500,

  • which would be about $35,000 today.

  • Ooh.

  • That's one of those new super fast cameras.

  • We only have to hold still for another 12 minutes.

  • [clock ticking]

  • [Hart] Smalls became an instant celebrity,

  • and soon got an invitation

  • to meet Abraham Lincoln at the White House

  • where he made the case that black people

  • should be allowed to fight

  • in the United States Armed Forces.

  • I don't know why Negros would be motivated

  • to risk their lives to fight slavery.

  • Well, um, with all due respect, sir...

  • [laughs]

  • Man, I totally had you.

  • [Hart] Robert Smalls became a highly decorated

  • captain in the U.S. Navy,

  • where he piloted the USS Planter

  • to many victorious battles,

  • including the defense of Fort Sumter

  • after the Union retook it.

  • Fire!

  • Boo-ya!

  • [Hart] After the war, Smalls became

  • a successful businessman in Philadelphia

  • before moving back to South Carolina,

  • where, in 1874, he got elected

  • to the United States Congress, and served five terms.

  • And here's the best part.

  • In 1865, he bought his former master's mansion

  • and raised his family there.

  • He even let his master's widow live in the spare room.

  • And that's why everyone

  • should know about Robert Smalls.

How did a 22 year old slave

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From Slave to Congressman: The Story of Robert Smalls - Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/04
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