McKissick Museum to present ‘The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls’

February 3, 2009

“The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls,” an exhibit that chronicles the life of the former slave who became a Union hero in the Civil War and a five-term congressman, will be on display at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum Feb. 7 – April 4.

In connection with the exhibit, Dr. Andrew Billingsley, a professor of sociology and African-American studies and author of “Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families,” will give two gallery talks at the museum.

The first event is set for 3:30 – 5 p.m. Feb. 19 and will include a book signing for Billingsley and his book on Smalls. 

Billingsley will speak again on Feb. 27 in conjunction with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology’s 2009 Post Doctoral Fellows Conference. HI talk, which will be followed by a reception, are planned from 5:30 – 7 p.m.

The exhibit will include scaled replicas of the CSS Planter and the USS Keokuk, the two ships piloted by Smalls during the war; Smalls’ musket; his correspondence with dignitaries; photos of Smalls, his house, his immediate family and descendants; and historic documents, such as copies of the legislation that created the first public schools in South Carolina, the S.C. Public Accommodations Act and the Parris Island marine base, all submitted by Smalls during his political life. Also on display are personal effects such as his walking cane; newspaper articles dating back to 1862 when he commandeered the Planter to freedom; and pictures of the army transport ship, “MG Robert Smalls,” commissioned into active duty on Sept. 15, 2007.

The exhibit is sponsored by The Humanities Council SC, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the university’s African American Studies Program, department of history and Institute for Southern Studies. The exhibit is organized by the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston.

Both events are open to the public. All McKissick exhibits are free. For more information on this exhibit or other exhibits at the McKissick Museum, which is located on the university’s historic Horseshoe, contact Ja-Nae Epps at 803-777-2876 or visit the Web site at