Reunion honors Robert Smalls School -- and its namesake

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 2, 2012 

When Freddie Meyer attended Beaufort's Robert Smalls School, he said he didn't learn much about who it was named after.

It was only later after he graduated in 1956 that a beloved teacher would say to him, "You should be proud that the school is named after your great-great-grandfather."

Meyer celebrated the memory of his ancestor, the Civil War general, hero and political leader Robert Smalls, with family and former classmates Sunday.

The Robert Smalls Association hosts a reunion of the school every three years. This year's event included a church service and a ceremony at Robert Smalls' gravesite at the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Craven Street, where Meyer and his siblings laid a wreath.

While there currently is a Robert Smalls Middle School that serves grades six through eight, the Robert Smalls School the reunion celebrated was reserved for black students in first through 12th grades from 1925 until 1970 at Ribaut Road and Boundary Street.

"Back then, people of color weren't allowed to go to Beaufort High School," said Edgar Williams of the Robert Smalls Association.

The struggle some of the students went through during segregation and later school integration had its roots in the times of Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery. In 1862, Smalls was working as part of the slave crew of the Confederate steamer The Planter when he captured the ship and turned it over to Union troops.

After the Civil War, his public service included election to the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate, then four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served as a major general in the state militia and as port collector for Beaufort.

The ceremony Sunday at the Robert Smalls memorial, where he and his wife, Hannah, are buried was a first for the Robert Smalls reunion, Meyer said.

In the years between reunions, the Robert Smalls Association hosts events to raise money for scholarships. Williams said the scholarships are open to any descendant of the Robert Smalls School, including cousins, grandchildren or even great-great-grandchildren of students who attended.

Related content:

Penn Center celebrates 150th anniversary of school, future of center, June 21, 2012

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