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The Post offers a good account of the Secession Ball. I think this part at the end is really important:


Another ancestor of a secession ordinance signer was among the guests inside the Secession Ball. As he was leaving, David J. Rutledge - whose great-great-great-grandfather was the secession convention president played by McConnell - turned to a woman in a fur shawl and said: "You're going to be mad at me. . . . I believe it was about slavery." 

Thomson, the tour guide, chimed in, parsing the debate. "Forgive me, I would say it's more about antislavery," he said. "People in the North who didn't own slaves getting involved." Rutledge wasn't budging, despite the disapproving glances. Hoop skirts and frock coats funneled past him toward the exits, disappearing from view as they summited the staircase. 

When Rutledge's great-great-great-grandfather signed the secession ordinance, there was an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 on hand to watch. When it came time to celebrate the signing's sesquicentennial, about 300 people came. Most of the seats in an auditorium that holds more than 2,700 were empty.

I understand why the NAACP protested, but I think, at some point, we need to put more energy into making sure our own story is told. To wit:

Robert [Smalls] was sent to Charleston in 1851 to work for his master (now Henry McKee) where he held several jobs. He started out in a hotel, then became a lamplighter on the streets of Charleston. His love of the water, evidenced in his childhood at Beaufort, led him to work down on the docks and wharfs of Charleston in his teen years. He became a stevedore (a dockworker), a rigger, a sail maker, and eventually worked his way up to a wheelman (essentially a pilot, though blacks were not called pilots). He became very knowledgeable of the Charleston harbor.

In the fall of 1861, Smalls steered the CSS Planter, an armed Confederate military transport. On May 12, 1862, the Planter's three white officers were spending the night ashore. In the early morning hours of the 13th, Smalls and several other black crewmen decided to make a run for the Union vessels that formed the blockade, in accordance with a plan Smalls previously had discussed with them. 

Robert was dressed in the captain's uniform and even had a hat similar to the white captain's. The Planter backed out of what was then known as Southern Wharf around 3 a.m. The Planter stopped at a nearby wharf to pick up Smalls' family and other crewmen's relatives, who had been concealed there for some time. Now with his wife and children and a small group of other African Americans aboard, Smalls made his daring escape. 


The Planter not only had the blacks on board but it also had four valuable artillery pieces aboard, besides its own two guns. Perhaps most valuable was the code book in Robert's possession that would reveal the Confederate's secret signals and placement of mines and torpedoes in and around Charleston harbor. Smalls piloted the ship past the five Confederate forts that guarded the harbor, including Fort Sumter. 

The renegade ship passed by Sumter approximately 4:30 a.m. He then headed straight for the Federal fleet, which was part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, making sure to hoist a white flag. The first ship he encountered was USS Onward, which prepared to fire until a sailor noticed the white flag. When the Onward's captain boarded the Planter, Smalls requested to raise the US flag immediately. Smalls turned the Planter over to the United States Navy, along with its onboard cargo of artillery and explosives intended for a Confederate fort. 

Because of his extensive knowledge of the shipyards and Confederate defenses, Smalls was able to provide valuable assistance to the Union Navy. He gave detailed information about the harbor's defenses to Admiral Samuel Dupont, commander of the blockading fleet. Smalls became famous throughout the North. Numerous newspapers ran articles describing his actions. Congress passed a bill, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, rewarding Smalls and his crewmen with the prize money for the captured Planter. 

Smalls' own share was $1,500 ($34,000 adjusted for inflation in 2007 dollars), a huge sum for the time. Robert personally met Abraham Lincoln in late May 1862 (two weeks later) upon which he heralded his personal account to the President. Lincoln was quite impressed with Smalls' intelligence. His deeds became a major argument for allowing African Americans to serve in the Union Army. Smalls served under the Navy until March 1863, when he was transferred to the Army. 

In December 1863, Smalls became the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States. On December 1, 1863, the Planter had been caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship's commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might even be shot. Smalls took command and piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter's captain.[2] Robert returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor in April 1865 for the re-raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter.

Smalls went on to become among the first class of African-Americans in the U.S. Congress. He served there until 1877, when Redeemers began systemically disenfranchising blacks. 

By 2015, there should be statue of Robert Smalls somewhere in Charleston. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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