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Before King, There was Robert Smalls

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A Documentary Reveals the Life and Achievements of a 19th Century African-American Congressman

 Washington, DC — In 1875, Robert Smalls of South Carolina was elected to the first of his five congressional terms.  A former slave, Smalls tirelessly served his constituents, black and white, with dignity and courage.  He fought for equal opportunity among the races in business, politics and education.  Up to now, very little has been written about his life and achievements. 

DoubleBack Productions, a Washington, DC-based production company, has released a feature documentary entitled, Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill. This film brings to light the full picture of the development of American democracy, the origins of civil rights movement and the man who dedicated his life to this crusade.  African-American politicians like Robert Smalls pushed the boundaries of American democracy setting the stage for the modern day civil rights movement. 

“Smalls’ story is still relevant today as African Americans seek to maintain a voice in the American political system,” said Executive Producer/Writer, Adrena Ifill.  “Smalls made a great impact on American democracy by pushing our country to live up to its ideals of freedom and justice for all citizens. Today’s African American congressmen and senators are the embodiment of his legacy.”

The documentary, narrated by actor Sean Patrick Thomas (“The District,” “Save the Last Dance”), explores the leadership and legacy of Smalls, a former slave who became one of the first black congressmen during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.

During his political career, Smalls was instrumental in the creation of South Carolina public school system.  He was also the catalyst for the integration of Philadelphia’s public transportation system.  After resigning from office in 1887, Small continued to work tirelessly to hold back the tide of domestic terrorism designed to disenfranchise African American in the democratic process.

Robert Smalls wrote in 1895, “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere.  All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”The documentary, Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill, is produced by DoubleBack Productions, LLC.  Featured at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA and winner of the Best Documentary at the Arizona Black Film Festival, it was also screened at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival ( in August 2007. The documentary was broadcast on BET J, an international cable channel, and SC ETV, a PBS station in South Carolina, USA.


Written by Symphony

February 3, 2008 at 7:52 pm

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