tv Be Free or Die CSPAN September 10, 2017 12:30am-1:37am EDT
in october we are headed to nashville for the southern festival of books and later that month, there are two book festivals happening on the same weekend. in the northeast it's the ninth annual boston book festival and in the south the baton rouge book festival. >> hello can everyone hear me. awesome. i would like to thank you and welcome our speakers tonight. just a few housekeeping notes.
cell phones and other devices should be turned off. that would be very much appreciated. tonight is the sole event so tonight there is one event. if i could just ask everyone to pull fold up their chairs at the end of the event that would be greatly appreciated. last thing, the q&a session, if i can ask you to step to the side, to my left we have a microphone and we do record this and c-span is here as well. if we could get this all on recording, that would be wonderful. thank you. without further do it like to introduce tonight's author. be free or die, the imaging story of escape from slavery to union hero. it's her second major work.
nominated for the 2014 edgar award for best fact crime and number one wall street bestseller. they chronicles the heroic journey of robert small who in 186 1862 seized a confederate steamer and sailed to union blockade freeing himself and his family. as all of you will soon see and learn, he i his mission did not and there. he would later become the first black captain of an army ship and enjoy a lustrous career as a state and national legislator. usa declared that reading this is like recovering a national heirloom that was lost, stolen or buried for decades. they commend her ability to commemorate history with her narrative. she currently resides in
raleigh north carolina. she is with the great-great-grandfather of mr. smalls. he is an accomplished businessman and serves as ceo of the african museum in south carolina. please join me in welcoming kate and michael. >> we decided before i am going too. [inaudible] i just want to do my part to welcome you all here. it's great. we had a chance to this once before and this looks like a great crowd. i hear it's a friendly one.
how did robert smalls come across your radar. you've written before, why robert small. >> thank you so much for being here. it means the world to have the support of his support of his family in writing this book. that was very important to me and it has been wonderful. thank you. i'm sorry to my friends from national geographic who i have my backed turned to a little bit. nothing personal, i promise. but i was looking for my second, an idea for my second book after the secret rescue
came out and it's often a difficult task because you're trying to find a subject that you're bringing something new to the table weapon that can be hard depending on how many books are out there. youngest brother sent me an article about robert smalls swallows in this process and i was fascinated by him and particularly fascinated by the idea that i had never heard of him because through my work at national geographic and other places, i had read a lot of stories about the civil war and i was amazed to find that he was not a better-known figure. in looking at that article, i just decided i wanted to know more, i wanted to know what could help him take such a great risk in seizing the ship and taking his family with him and risking everything after having a life of being told he was not equal. i was hooked from there. i felt like there was room in the marketplace for a book about him since it had been a
while and the non- academic book for mass audience so that's when i get started with this. of course, the most obvious question is what impacted having a great-great-grandfather who is an american hero have on you growing up. >> it's almost hard to know where to start on that question. from a metaphysical level, it has been profound in the sense that, as a young person, you grow up and i think were all insecure to a certain degrees about different things. i had the benefit of growing up in the 70s in boston, which while boston massachusetts is a progressive liberal place, i can assure you, we but
deployed to prep school in new england back in those days. thank you for coming. so, a couple levels, as a child, at first it just was. i grew up with robert smalls grandchildren. my grandmother was his granddaughter. she was born in 1897 and lived with robert up until her teen years and further, robert's daughter lived with my mother and my grandparents for the past 22 years of her life. they had the benefit of living a long life. she died in 1959. my mother grew up with hearing first-hand stories
about robert. she was maybe three or four years old and she didn't remember much about that night, but she remembered being scared and remembered the experience being very scary and obviously was able to be much more detailed as she was growing up and ended up as his secretary in washington. to make a long story short, it really sustained me. it filled and supported my sense of self.
i would not be president of the museum in charleston had i not had this connection to robert small. so, it's the gift that keeps on giving. i think for me, my challenge. how do i continue that gift to my children. i have four children. one of them whose name is robert. i feel an obligation and i'm expressing that obligations some degree in my work i'm doing at the museum, but most important in passing that along to my children and hopefully someday my grandchildren. it's been wonderful. >> 's when you are thinking
about robert small and thinking about hey, that's a cool story, to some degree there had to be something of a business decision about relevance and how. walk us through that process and why you thought the story , and under told story, why that could be relevant today. >> certainly people in buford know robert smalls name. that's the town in south carolina where he is born and raised until he was 12. there is definitely a marketing decision when you're picking a topic, you want to make sure you are bringing something new to the table, like i mentioned, but i think in order to really appeal to modern-day readers, you want to do something that's relevant to their lives today. you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on tv regarding race
in our country. it permeates every part of our society. his story is extraordinary on its own, but if you combine it with his story. it appealed to me. it was telling a small story during the civil war, the focus of the book, and also telling the story and so many issues that there facing. i learned so much in the research process of this book because i had no idea how much decision it was. when he sailed to freedom he was considered contraband, technically speaking. mostly they did not see
themselves that way. they consider themselves free but technically the government of the united states had not decided what they were going to do. in order for our country to heal from some of the racial issues were dealing with we have to fully understand the whole story. he was in the center of everything. he was born in beaufort which was near port royal and was taken over by the union in 1861 and when the union took it over, the whites in the area fled leaving women and children who had no food and have not been able to care for themselves. it was the first time that reconstruction happen there. when he was 12 he went to charleston south carolina and that was the place where they signed the ordinance into secession.
it was the capital of the confederacy. he was really in the middle of it all and that was an important aspect of the story. there is a picture of you that i've seen several times, i think it was in the 70s at tabernacle church. can you explain what the relevance to robert is at the tabernacle church. >> i've been blessed to have an opportunity to talk about robert smalls many, many times over the course of my life, hundreds of times, but the first time i spoke publicly about him was april 1976. i was 13 or 14 years old and had just come back from a trip to d.c. it was loosely his day in south carolina that day.
i got up opportunity to unveil the best of him there. it's interesting, i remember being quite terrified up to the moment thinking about speaking in front of people and something literally washed over me as i'm sitting on the stage and sort of took that anxiety away and i've never felt anxious about speaking in public. i wouldn't say do it well, but whether that was robert moving his hand over me or whatever, that was a great opportunity and our family has a traveling exhibit that travels around the country
and has artifacts and papers and typically whenever that opens someplace i go into a little talk. it's wonderful having an opportunity to talk about somebody you're proud of and if that person happens to be connected to you, all the bette better. >> tell me about the research process. you found out about it, you decided this is someone you would be interested in exploring further. what is the research process like. >> i'm talking to an audience full of researchers. i was trained by the very best at national geographic many years ago. the way i start in the first few weeks and months of reading a story.
i picked the low hanging fruit, if you will to see what i learne can learn from there. typically you find other angles of research. of course i knew he filed for the national archive. once he sailed the ship to freedom, the union ended up hiring him as a civilian vote pilot. he could've been enlisted but samuel dupont who was the admiral who took the ship from him needed him as a pilot in the only level that he could be enlisted as would be boy which is the very lowest, not a well-respected position and he certainly never would have been allowed to be a vote pilot. he was very impressed with his navigational skills and everything else he had done.
he served in numerous battles and in every way he was an enlisted man but technically he was not. it was very amazing to see the handwriting in these notes that are still in the archives when he turned over the vote they had the order book that was on the vote and confederate passes. there's nothing like seeing that in person. it makes the story so real.
one of the most impressive documents i came across was a bill of sale for smalls future wife haner when she was still, she was young, they hadn't met yet. it was in the 1840s. she was sold along with her children for $800. seeing that on a piece of paper just brought this history to life. it hit home and away that i hadn't realized it would. i never thought i would find family members that i could count on. i certainly did not think there would be people actively preserving and willing to hold.
[inaudible] michael is a speaker for the family, now the president of the museum and takes this subject very seriously and is passionate about it. that made it a lot easier. when you see the impact, i can see through your families impac impact. your mom has a phd, you have your mba, smalls was illiterate until he was in his 20s. education became very important to him. he passed along to his children. i think that was really and build in the family. heights high to turn over every leaf i can while doing research. you never know what that screen to be.
there is a small mention he was working in a confederate hospital and he had just lost two children from his illness. it wasn't the big aha moment but it was important to notice what kind of reaction he had. so much material is being digitized and that helps a lot. >> part of the reason why the story is not better known, there is an effort to mute the story. in 2012 we had assessed quit
centennial celebration commemorating taking the vote to freedom and someone came up with me "after words", very emotional, very upset and said i'm angry with you because robert small defied history and robert smalls and bears the confederacy. [laughter] i'm not quite sure what response he expected of me, and i wanted to be sure not to disrespect him personally, but i just wonder, if you were doing a book about abe lincoln, in addition to regular research, with robert smalls the probably wasn't a whole lot of that and i just
wonder how that played in your research. >> it's one of the challenges i think people are doing nonfiction. we can only write what we can validate you can throw in only so many possibilities, which i certainly did. it's definitely an issue. the fact that he was illiterate until he was in his 20s, there wasn't a lot of writing to go back on, his grandmother did a lot of writing for him later in life. something i had a think long and hard, do i have enough material to make this book come to life but i hope i did. sadly consideration that's why it's important to find as many sources as you possibly can. and asking that question, it
reminded me, i met one of the descendents who was the captain on board the night he sees the ship. he decided the officers would go into town and spend time with family which was against confederate orders which left the window open for smalls to do what he did. it's still miraculous that happened. we've met his descendent and he told me when i interviewed that he was really the first generation to not be embarrassed by the story and he's very open and came to our reading in charleston and embraced it but i think it speaks volumes to the legacy of the south and of the division in the country in some ways. my question back to you would be about the descendents and
what it was like for you to meet and who did you meet and what was it like to meet them. >> it's been really surreal to meet these descendents of other people. i had a chance, i met this gentleman, and met a descendent of the family that owned the planter, i met a great, great grandson up in philadelphia at the museum event, and i sort of think of it abstractly. to some degree. 150 years ago, all those people's lives were intersecting and then they broke apart and 150 years later those lives kind of came back together. it's interesting. it's odd how that happens, but i would love to get as many of those descendents
together around the table and just talk about what to do here. what did you grow up hearing. the dupont descendent really didn't know much about it at al all. i think with dupont you probably have lots about things to think about. it's been interesting and fascinating and we picked up little things here and there. robert smalls is sort of been under told story. where there things as you did your research that sort of surprised you or what surprised you most about the story. >> what surprised me the most was how i thought i knew a lot about what had happened during that time beyond
robert smalls, beyond african-american relationships to their owners, et cetera and i found that a lot of it was not exactly as i thought. i was certainly aware of it but i think how much the lives of the people were intertwined, and i found that robert was in such unique position because his mother lydia was born on the plantation and at the age of nine years old she was taken to the buford house in town to raise children, to taken from her mother, but she spoke the language spoken by a lot of the west african slaves who had their own languages and were put together on these plantations and how to come up with a way to community with each other. he had the benefit of knowing the culture as well as being
privy to a lot of information because he was working as a house slave which i didn't realize the extent of the difference between not. certainly no one would ever wish anyone to be an enslaved person but compared to life on the plantation, it was a far better wife. there was a killer food and close and you were aware of lot that was going on. i think that was one of the most shocking things that i was also really shocked to find out in the aftermath of the civil war, the extent to which the south tried to reinstate slavery. i kind of knew it but i didn't know to the extent and it was quite shocking. i think that's kind of the history i was talking about that we all need to understand more to fully grasp the history.
i would ask you, was there anything in reading that book that surprised you. >> i think i read the first book about robert smal smalls, there is a children book back in the 60s and i love books. this kind of environment is home for me. i love being around books. i think for me it was an incremental experience. every time you hear a new detail or you read about something you didn't know, it almost feels like you are opening a door to some information, maybe that information was there but for some reason you just haven't accessed it or something. for me it was broadly, there were lots of details. i think the research was fabulous, but i think holistically it was this
uncovering of new information and it also, to a certain degree, because i feel linked to him, it's like learning a bit more about your own identity and to some degree that's kind of odd. kate and i are just getting to know each other and she's telling me something about who i am and i had to get used to that over the years. it's fascinating. in thinking about writing the book and the story, you made a strategic decision to stop at a certain place. talk about that point and why you decided there as opposed to continuing. >> is of course, you're referring to the fact, after the war, robert smalls went
on to have an incredible career. he served as congressman for five years and did some amazing things, faced a lot of trials and relations and the aftermath of the war, but for me, i felt that the civil war was what made him the person he was. his childhood as well as the civil war, and it launched him into this political career. test test
>> you know, that was important to me and that is what i felt like made him the man he became. >> i wanted to focus on what made him the person we want to be. i think i will ask one more question and then move to questions from the audience so be thinking. that was a decision we made and i know thz a preferred term for you as well. >> i think there has been a long
journey from those daysdays for african-american for african-americans to kind of seize the narrative of our lives, our existence, our identity, and so broadly i think it fits into that stream of sort of evolution, identity evolution, more personally, it's been sort of passed down through the generations that lidda, robert's mother, said to him when he was young, that robert, you may be enslaved but you are not a slave. and i think the distinction that she was trying to offer was this may be the condition you're in but this doesn't define who you are. there's a difference between an adjective and a noun. and so the combination of this -- and i don't know. the last decade or so people have been starting to make that distinction, and the fact that i've got, like, some
personal connection to that thinking, i think resonates with me. people of african descent has been around since the first human being. the history in this country is like this much in the span of time, and so i don't think that defines those people who suffered through that. think that was what the role they were forced to play. show less text >> i found even in my writing when i would talk about enslaved men, women and children, it reminded me of their humanity in so many ways. read counselless read counselless articles before the suffering that was happening with the people that were left mind by the whites when they fled port royal and buford, but when you start kind of grouping people together and the slaves did this or they need this and then when you start talking about individual people, men, women, children, it becomes much more powerful to people as well.
>> i think just to talk really for just a minute about this museum we're building. one of the galleries we're building is called atlantic connections and seeks to uncover -- seeks to talk about this point. the fact is that the people who came here, the africans who came to america, wasn't this monolithic group of people. it was people from hundreds of different ethnicities and languages and religions, who came from accomplished civilizations and so i think that understanding adds to the sense of humanity that you just talked about, think it's important. >> great. well, with that, does anyone have any questions they'd like to ask any think they want you to come to the microphone. >> hello. thank you very much for your words. i'm finding the book to be truly meaningful. for me one of the most moving aspects of the book was learning about how robert smalls
ultimately purchased the house in beaumont -- >> buford. >> thank you. in which he and his mother had been enslaved mitchell question is, i'm -- my question is what happen to the house? is the house still standing today and is it's museum? is it privately owned? >> the house remained in our family for about 100 years, and in the 1950s or so, late not 1950s, just about everybody had left buford. butford had fallen on hard economic times so my family end up in charlotte and north and south carolina, and the decision wassed in, business decision to sell the house.
enough it's in private hands. it's on the national register of historic sites or -- but it's private residence. show less text 00:35:40 unidentified speaker >> great >> i'm not sure this is a good question so if it's not, apologize in advance. >> we'll let you know. >> it's on my mind so i'll ask it nye. i haven't read the book yet but i can't wait testimony just finished reading douglas edger tons about the massachusetts 54th and 55th 55th regiment and i saw reference to robert smalls in the book. i thought i had to read about that guy and your book came sought i'm happy to sigh it. i'm -- you appear to be a relatively fearless kind of person who would take on a new >> thanks to my husband. he's back there.
>> i'm somewhat curious about the quote-unquote racial aspect of this in the sense of you being a -- i don't like white and black, i realize there's social constructs and all that, but you being you, writing about an african-american hero, and i just wondered what your thoughts were before you took that on and how things transpired as you got into it. if it what important or not. >> it was incredibly important. i would be very naive as writer to go goo any topic without thinking about every angle you can. certainly with a topic that deals with race, whatever topic that is, you have to be ready to make sure that all your factors are correct, that one of the things that was most important to me was being a sensitive as i possibly could to the issue, so that involved having a professor who is a specialist in african-american history, and who is african-american himself,
read the book. the manuscript, once it was done, consulted with him throughout the process. certainly having the family of robert smalls, whether he was white, black, or asian, was very important to me because i -- my goal as a writer is to -- is not to put anyone down. that's not -- my goal was to get the accurate story and in this case i wanted to elevate someone that i believed was a hero. but it was very important to me to listen to any issues that came up, like when michael's mother mentioned the -- we were going to use the term "slave" on the title. his journey from slave to union hero, and she was opposed to that, and i completely understand why now, and we made that argument with the editor who was very gracious about and it understood, and the last thing i warranted to do was to insult people that i was really
trying to help by telling the story, the smalls family. was a dawning thing i. don't know if i fully realized how daunting when i started. was just overwhelmed by his story and i think he is an american hours -- american hero that we should all be looking to, beyond being african-american, obviously that was an important aspect of his story, but that is really what made me decide to do it, that he is an american hero and i wanted people to know him, and hopefully i'd be as sensitive as possible and relied a lot 0 on a lot of cold readers i. had many, many people read and it alert me to anything they felt was insensitive towards the confederates as. -- as well. it is our past. i god interested in the severely war when is was younger when i learned i had relatives who fought on both sides of the war at the battle of get tisburg. both were injured.
the confederate wasn't to a couple of p.o.w. camps. i thought that made be a good candidate to write the story because i think that i live in raleigh, north carolina now, and raleigh, north carolina now, and i think i've lived in washington, d.c. for 20 years and it was are something that wars very much on my mind and i hope that i covered everything i could, but i was willing to take the chance to get his story out. thank you. >> i know you focus is on the civil war, but i have read about how robert smalls was one of the last african-american leaders to remain in power as the segregationists basically pushed out african-american leaders and he had control over his constituents in both -- in buford. can you comment on why that happened, why he was -- well, control may be -- >> i think it was really -- yeah. rabbiter smalls actually served longer than any other african-american congressman during reconstruction.
i think that was largely across five terms -- lashingly because buford was so overwhelmingly african-american at the time. so there were all sores of -- out sorts over efforts by the redshirts and others to sort of grab power again, but for the longest there was a real block of african-american voting power in buford that allowed him to sustain it. >> i think unfortunately he faced a lot of discrimination throughout his career and ultimately at one opinion was accused of bribery was sentenced to three years hard labor but only served three days before he was essentially pardoned but he wanted to go to the supreme court and argue his case because he femurly believed he was not guilty and it was an effort to take behind down himself career suffered a little bit so the
last bit of this career he was the customs collector in buford. i think his long reign in buford speaks to the kind of person he was. he was respected not only bill the african-american community but also by the whites in the area. one of the stories that you'll hear if you go to buford and go to his home or go on a tour past the home, is that smalls reached out to the mckee family who had owned him and his mother, and invited them to come back to the house and paid for their rail trip to buford and invited them to stay with him which was an extraordinary act of forgiveness in my book, and then the mckee family refused to eat with him at the same table but he continued to have them stay at his home and he served them separately. so, i think a lot of his success was determined by the kind of
person he was. despite the efforts to knock him down. >> hi. i haven't read your book but i have a couple of questions. smalls was -- regarding his pension, i know that there was some struggle regarding the -- him obtaining his pension. i know he served undersome samuel dupont and i think it was robert -- david hunter who was the army commander. i'm just curious, so he was -- is a understand it he was proposed to the rank of a captain or pilot, which should have allowed him to receive this pension. when he requested -- when he did the investigation regarding his pension, i don't understand why he didn't call on samuel dupont or david hunter to assist him and verify the fact so he would be able to get his pension? i understand he later severed his pension, but i'm a little confused why there was a struggle for him to receive the pension.
show less text 00:43:42 >> you want me to answer? he was proposed to captain but -- promoted to captain but not a military capacity. he was captain of a ship and that happened shortly after he was piloting boats during the charleston campaign. they got close to some fire, and the white captain of the ship at the time panicked and hid in the bunker and the coal bunker, and smalls jumped in and because he was so heroic and saved many lives they immediately said, let's make this guy captain. but he was not a military captain. he was captain of that boat. hunter died -- dupont died shortly -- during the war, soon after he, the lost his position because of what had happened in charleston, and i don't remember exactly when hunter died but i know that for many years, smalls actually fought to get a pension
for hunter's wife after he died so this is the kind of man he was. looking out for people who helped him. but so i think it all comes down to to the idea he was a civilian boat pilot, never an enlisted man. he did it but if he had been enlisted he would not have been allowed to be a pilot. so what choice did he have? show less text 00:44:56 unidentified speaker >> the other side of that coin is that as an african-american, he faced certain obstacles in the process that he wouldn't otherwise. for example, there was a law on the books that when property was delivered to the union, that a certain formula was delivered to -- in terms of a reward and smalls never got that for what he delivered. the congress couldn't see fit to give a black man that much money. so, i think it was complicated. let's just say. >> one final question. did he have a relationship with frederick douglass? >> he absolutely did.
he and frederick douglass met with secretary of war standon and in fact with president lincoln around trying to lobby to get formerly enslaved men to be included in the union. by the way, also a number of letters back and forth between the two men, some of which are in the exhibit that we have. show less text 00:46:00 unidentified speaker >> i have a writing process question. i was in tim wendell's class when you talk about the secret rescue and i was just curious how you feel either your voice changed or just your maybe approach to organizing this book changed from your first major piece to this one. show less text 00:46:20 unidentified speaker >> that's a great question. got my masters degree in writing from johns hopkins and kim tim wen wendell was my thesis adviser and i spoke to your class. the first time you try to write a book you have no idea what
you're doing and your editor wants you to have it done bay certain deadline and they're not holding your hand, so i think my experience with -- as bag researcher at national geographic compelled me to make sure i got every detail right for both books. what i learned in the process was you have to humanize the characters more as well. i mean i was so afraid of attributing something that didn't really happen that i was probably a little bit gun shy about that. think -- i think with experience, you know, you gain so much. you understand the process, you understand what kind of feetback you'll get followed for your editor, and it's deaf it in lay -- definite lay learning process and getting you legs on the first book is to be expected unless they're far better writers out there than i am. >> hi.
>> first of all, let me thank you so much for doing this because i do have -- many of us do have billingsley's book on smalls, and reading that and coming to hear him. many of us felt there was need for more of a personal story about smalls himself and you have done that. >> thank you. > where were you in the process -- i'll ask both of you -- when the massacre at mother emanuel occurred and what do you think the impact will be from that on your work as well as your work at the museum. >> go ahead. >> i had written the proposal. it had gone around with my agent had taken it to publishers and we had a publisher interested, and had acquired the book and so i think when this horrific event happened, it just reiterated the idea that this was a relevant story to today.
reference clement of pinkny was in a position that smalls has served in and admired robert smalls. i think it was skip gates, professor at harvard who interviewed him and he had specifically mentioned robert smalls. so it was very poignant to me. was already innerved in the story, working on it, and wanting it to be the best i could, but it was shocking reminder just how much we still have -- how far we have to go in this country, and i did visit it on one our my further trips to charleston and there war a lot of flowers still out. it had been months and months but it was pretty moving moment, and just a tragedy. >> i think in trying to build museum that seeks to tell these untold stories, like robert smalls and so many others, there are lot of challenges and former mayor riley, who conceived of
this museum -- show less text 00:49:40 unidentified speaker >> >> that's right. he actually first talked about the museum in his state of the city address in the year 2000. so, it's been out there, it's been percolating for a long time. at first the mayor has to toe build the mitt cal case to line and white we needed this museum, and believe it or not, i'll say this humbly and with respect, there were a lot of people then, as there are some now, in charleston, who don't really understand why we need this museum. charleston is this really beautiful city and i think mayor riley has done an amazing job in sort of building it, but there's an element sort of a romantic antebellum, old south element that drives a lot of the major industry, which is tourism, that really is uneasy about african-american history and certainly the role that played
in building charleston and in building this nation. so i think to your question, when the massacre at mother emanuel occurred it was shocking to everybody and caused people rethink relationships and things everybody thought was in these issues that everyone thought were kind of being managed or were okay, and for me now, a couple years later, it is really -- a very powerful influence on things. if i was stand neglect front door right now, mother emanuel church would be closer than that front door. it's right across the street. so, you messenger bet the flowers. every morning -- every day, i see people go and sort of pay respects and leave flowers and
other sorts of things. it remains -- of course just to take a step back, with the trial and so that the legal process continues to sort of progress on that. it's just kind of hanging there. and charleston continues to evolve and to grow and to try to figure out how to deal with these kinds of things. i think the human hopes to try to be part of contributing to those conversations in productive and positive ways. show less text 00:52:13 >> there's a great tour in this, and with the work at the museum and i was going to ask, how can we as average citizens support and help in what you are doing, and you have a lot of truth here, and the one thing i'd like to see come out of that museum -- i'm a frequent visitor charleston and i have been to mother emanuel and did my first communion there, the year after
in terms of the first sunday. but to tell the truth. to tell the truth. because it has been so hidden, and kept secret and hidden, despite the romanticism because charleston is a beautiful city. now i bring forth my friend cindy who is a charlestonnan. >> i wish i had that ped degree. >> i'm from south carolina but not the charleston pedigree and it is of great distinction. the people of charlestons are healed in great esteem in the state. know you did a lot of research and i am a researcher myself and this is an untold story for the nation but within the state of south carolina, certainly within the african-american community, we grew up with this story. so there's an oral history that is very strong throughout the state, and i assume much stronger in buford and
charleston. so my question is do you have any oral history that you tapped into to get the perspective of the people there? because robert smalls, every other person i know of is telling veronica claims to be descending from robert smalls. my question is did you getfully oral history to contribute to your understanding what happened >> ey. great question did it get any oral hit to contributed to the tell offering the story. absolutely. thick not only going to places where your story takes place is so important to get a feel of the place, but you have to talk to people who have opinions and often times things are wrong that are passed down but often times they're right itch was fortunate in that dr. moore, michael's mother, grew up as her grandmother elizabeth, who was four years old on the planter. when helen tells me something i
believe helen. and most of her material that i was able to verify was absolutely true. so i think as a researcher, you want to get that oral history and then you have to evaluate it based on sources, because it was very important to me to not just reiterate stories that have been passed down that don't have any basis in truth, but often times oral history is a great beginning and i think it's an important part to get the full story. >> just as corollariy to that. the question about the race being an issue for you as an author. think it's extremely important to recognize this man, as an american hero, not as an african-american hero. had he been white and delivered
that ship, it would have been a great act. >> he would have been president. [laughter] >> i don't mean it that way. mean the fact that it was hidden and not spoke been more generally. >> yeah. >> and with the help of the texas board of education made sure a it's not in any of the history books. but it is -- it was very much a part of the lore and the pride of the people over south carolina. >> your unit is excellent and i thought about this over and over again, this is an american story, and of course who is robert small's father was is unknown and he was likely white. a story that is a black and white story. we don't have to put labels on it. he's an american hero that every child should hear about in school. one quick thing about the human but it will be on the site of gadston's war. >> thank you for the prompt.
we have the wonderful blessing to be able to create a museum on the site that where almost half of tall the enslaved africans who came to america took their first steps. so it's really sacred ground. there's an amazing african-american history museum in this city, and i hope y'all had a chance to be there. its leader, lonny bunch, says -- told us one time that there are very, very few sacred sites of african-american history in the entire continent, hemisphere, he said but the gadston's wharf is one of them. we have an enormous opportunity. i like to position it as an opportunity but most of the time i think of it as a responsibility, and i think of it's an obligation, and i think sort of the north star for me in this project. i have two.
one is the ancestors this week create this in a way that makes them proud. and then the other is my children and we have 0 build this in a way that deliver that legacy and those stories to them and helps them to have a firm understanding of who they are. so it's really important work. i'm blessed to be able to do it. show less text 00:58:06 unidentified speaker >> we have thank you so much for both of you being here. i'm trying to speak into this. i have not had the pleasure of reading the book yet but what stood tonight is your constant
mention of mr. smallses been taken to charleston at age 12, and someone would has kin in charleston is if you go to avery institute you see the badge that african descendents had to wear around town you understand the town has survived plagues plagues and epidemics and matters of science, art, have hearty contribution from african descended people that are very physically present so it's very mocking that -- i sense that is what you described earlier about charleston kind of avoiding race, and i'm just wondering if you -- you have said a lot but can you say more about -- especially a man being brought to that city, strictly ordered the -- ordered, how does he fit into that kind of history and extension of it? thank you. .. . people like robyn and hannah both urban folks. robyn and hannah lived many a apartment above a barn on east bay street. and so any senses from what i've read an understand it was really
this creative mix of people, and they interacted with each other. they learned from each other. they grew. and it, i don't think robert, i think that was one of the reason why is robert was able l to do what he did was because not only did he grow up. the circumstances that he grew up in allows him to dream big dreams and then try to wonder well -- why aren't i, you know, why aren't i free? but then he was around people that was a stimulating, you know, kind of a social situation as well. so i don't know that this directly answers your question. but i think from my perspective that's part it have. but -- show less text 01:01:18 unidentified speaker >> i want to say to add quickly robert small what i found was that he embraced every opportunity that came his way to restrictions et cetera but he found way around
the them that's particularly extraordinary about his story he was derled to create a life for himself that was not determined by someone else and that's remarkable to me. thank you. show less text 01:01:45 unidentified speaker >> one thing if we have just another 30 seconds by relevant to this. it always -- it sort of astounds me how shocked people are that robert did what he did that he took this boat an sailed it to freedom but i liken it to if you're starving you haven't eaten in two weeks, but yet you're put in a room with amazing buffet in front of you, and then people leave and close the door. you know, robert, he wanted to be free. he had saved money he had tried to buy the freedom of his wife and children had. hadn't gotten that far yet, and then saw this opportunity and he took it. so if i -- [inaudible conversations] tell your friends
but i did hear that we have time for one more question if there was someone waiting in the back. i had a question when you're doing your research and writing we do a lot about the men in history, did you find yourself -- did you find yourself balancing out the women in his life and how, you know, they were important. >> it's a great question sadly i don't think we have a lot to go on.
hannah i think had a big impact on this trip. i think she's an unsung hero it was his life, and you know, i wases determined to find an interview with her and i looked and looked and i only found one mention of her in one article and it was there was a correspondent deferred at the time that happened to interview her on the street and she explained that they have all decided if it looked like they were going to be captured when they were trying to escape that
rather than going back to slavery they would hold hands and dump overboard with their children, and drown themselves. so you know, as much as i absolutely adore robert smalls i think i'm biased but as a woman i think, you know, hannah an lidia particularly his mother really instilled in him such a sense of -- empowerment that i think could have very easily been lost to him. so i wish there was more that i could have added i was interested in two women who were brought onboard the ship we don't exactly know their relationship to smalls. but i did sign an article later that said, one of the young women that was on there hosted once he was able to buy the home on prince street he hosted a wedding for her and he was consider he considered her his adopted daughter. but what history we'll never know.
robert smalls without his mother, an robert had the somewhat rare opportunity to grow up at least the first 12 years with her. and you know, traditionally once children got to the point where they could been monetized they were sent to work and robert got a chance to grow with her and mention the quote ting that speaks to something that she invested in. there are other examples where she -- sort of took him places to see the realities of slavery that he might have been shielding from. otherwise -- and so the other cork of history, she when he was in charleston when the civil war break out. she was, you know, still in due fort and battle of port royal in 1861 free essentially not legally but effectively freed her but robert cheering about freedom i can only imagine it worked on his nerve that his mom was free. but i think that was another element to this. sure, thank you. >> a look at authors recently features on booktv after words.