July 4th is coming up. We think about the history of our country that we’ve been taught and grew up with. The fireworks and it’s symbolism of the time the American Flag flew through the night and Francis Scott captured it in song. America, with its faults and foibles, most of us still love it and think it’s probably the best thing going as far as country’s go. What did we not learn of?
From literature, public interest, and curiosity, we are all probably drawn more to the Civil War than the Revolutionary War. But on the 4th of July, we associate with a celebration of our Country’s origin with the war between the North & the South. But the Union was preserved through the most difficult and trying times challenging what America is, how it’s organized, and our shared core values. We collectively experienced cognitive dissonance over the country being split apart, over what the right thing to do… but Robert Smalls didn’t.
They say in times of trouble all it takes is for good men to remain silent for bad men to have their way with the world. That feels apt for now and also apt for the civil war. You could say silence and lack of action are condoning the actions of those in power. Robert Smalls was fairly silent but was a leader and willing to take action.
Smalls grew up a slave in South Carolina and had a dream to free himself and his family. He worked on a confederate ship and basically stole it along with his African American crew and their families, overnight when the white southern officers were away. Smalls piloted the ship past checkpoints and Fort Sumpter and drove it out to the open ocean where Union Blockade awaited. Thus, a Confederate Ship got turned over to the North and Smalls’ calm cool leadership got them there. Smalls went on to fight for the Union, became captain of that same ship but this time it flew the American Flag. Post-war Smalls got elected to the South Carolinian legislature, and then on to national leadership as a representative and senator in the U.S. Congress.
Here’s the crux of the story. Smalls went on to purchase the house and land he was enslaved at in Charleston, South Carolina. One day, the original white owner, the lady of the family, showed up at the house, with a certain amount dementia and deteriorated mental functioning she thought she still lived there. Smalls certainly would have been in his right to turn her away, a main figure in a system that has marginalized and de-humanized him and his family. What did Smalls do? He took her in, looked after her, respected her humaness in a country that had a history of not respecting his own.
That’s how we move forward, not anything that our divisive national leadership is engaged in. Robert Smalls, a good thing.