Sarasota, Florida- History often teaches us about the people who make a great impact on society, but it's the people along the way that help pave the path with their own equally important accomplishments that are many times forgotten about.
"Robert Smalls was born April 15, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina," says Michael Moore as he begins to share the story of his great, great grandfather with over 450 Booker High School students in Sarasota.
Robert Smalls' mother was a household slave on a plantation, but it's a life Smalls knew at a young he did not want to live. How he broke away from slavery and helped others to do the same is a story that is rarely spoken about in American history books, despite Smalls playing an important role.
Moore tells the students, "This is the story of someone who dared to dream big. He dreamed big, then he had a plan to do something about it. It's relevant to everyone everywhere."
Smalls, a pilot for a Confederate transport ship called the Planter, freed himself, his family and crew during the Civil War.
"He was 23 and commandeered a boat. It was an all-or-nothing thing. Robert Smalls decided he would be free, or dead and that decision for me- a couple of generations later- inspires me," said Moore to the crowd.
On May 13, 1862 Smalls left the Charlotte Harbor of South Carolina and turned the ship over to the Union along with intelligence about the Confederate army. Moore grew up hearing about this hero to his family and American history.
"I'm still awed by him. The biggest thing that impacts me personally is his courage" he said.
Smalls helped the Union win by convincing President Lincoln to sign on 100,000 African-American men. He fought in 17 battles during the Civil War, he served in South Carolina's Senate and House and in the US Congress.
His legislation is the model for America's free public school system, which according to Moore, makes him the father of today's public school system.
"He was the founder of the Republican Party in South Carolina. He's the first African-American to pilot a US vessel. He's the only African-American to have a US military vessel named after him" Moore added.
It's the story of his great-great grandfather Moore makes his life's mission to tell.
"I hope to encourage, to inspire and to educate. I love for young people to walk away after one of my talks and say, 'it's okay for me to dream big.'"
There is a Robert Smalls.com website and traveling museum that his great-great-grandson hopes to bring to the Tampa bay area soon.