Produced by the Charleston Gaillard Center

Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls
Story by Teralyn Reiter. Directed by JaMeeka D. Holloway.

No upcoming perfomances found for this event.

Script developed by JaMeeka D. Holloway, Celeste Jennings, Caroline Randall Williams, and Teralyn Reiter.

Gullah Cultural Consultant Dr. Jessica Berry.

Due to popular demand, we have released $10 (plus applicable fees) Gallery Seats for both performances!

About the Show

The Charleston Gaillard Center is proud to present its first-ever produced theatrical work. Based on the awe-inspiring life of South Carolina’s own Robert Smalls, FINDING FREEDOM: The Journey of Robert Smalls, story by Teralyn Reiter, script developed by JaMeeka D. Holloway, Celeste Jennings, Caroline Randall Williams, and Teralyn Reiter, celebrates and chronicles the remarkable story and legacy of a great American hero.

Born enslaved on the McKee Plantation in Beaufort, SC, a young Robert Smalls is sent off to Charleston to work on the docks of the Charleston Harbor during the Civil War.  Trusted by his family and crewmates and determined beyond his circumstances, on a foggy night in the early hours of May 13, 1862, Robert changes the course of his destiny and history when he seizes the Confederate’s USS Planter and steers it into the Union Blockade off the coast of Charleston Harbor. 

Infusing music, media, and movement, FINDING FREEDOM paints the early years of a bright-eyed Robert Smalls enslaved in Beaufort; learning the land, waters, and Gullah traditions of his mother, his daring and heroic commandeering of the USS Planter through the Charleston Harbor during the Civil War, to his later life of advocacy in the US House of Representatives. 

Featuring music arranged by Charleston native Charlton Singleton, FINDING FREEDOM: The Journey of Robert Smalls is Directed by JaMeeka D. Holloway with a Creative Design team of Artists all hailing from the South.  

Join us for an unforgettable storytelling and cultural experience where a young Robert Smalls is sent from Beaufort to Charleston on a journey that transforms him from man to Hero.

Holloway said, “this is also going to be a celebration of Black excellence and Black culture and Gullah culture. […] We want to offer Black audience members the opportunity to see themselves in all of it, in the glory and humanity. He had these moments of great fear, and yet he persisted. It’s so important to me that you can see that — that people can take that away, especially the students,” she said.

Charleston City Paper
Original photo from the Library of Congress

Information about photo from the Library of Congress

Title: Robert Smalls, S.C. M.C. Born in Beaufort, SC, April 1839

Created / Published: between 1870 and 1880

Glass negatives–1870-1880.

Portrait photographs–1870-1880.

Credit line: Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Purchase; Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans; 1954.

Part of: Brady-Handy photograph collection (Library of Congress).

Visit here to learn more.

$10 Community Tickets | SOLD OUT

We are committed to creating inclusionary and equitable opportunities for all audiences. The Gaillard provides opportunities that enhance access to the arts locally and across the state of South Carolina, amplify a variety of artistic voices that reflect the city’s vibrant diversity, and create an environment where everyone feels valued and welcome.

The Charleston Gaillard Center’s Education & Community Program is pleased to announce $10 community tickets are available for this performance. 

Pink Seats on Seat Map. Limited availability.

Pre-Show Panel Celebrating Robert Smalls | October 6 | 5:30PM-6:30PM

Location: Charleston Gaillard Ballroom

Please join us for an evening highlighting and celebrating our own local hero, Robert Smalls. Our pre-performance panel participants will discuss the Reconstruction Era, a period in which Robert Smalls was particularly influential, from a variety of different perspectives. Featuring Michael Boulware Moore, Businessman and the Great-Great-Grandson of Robert Smalls, Victoria Smalls, the Executive Director Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor and Michael Allen, Historian and Reconstruction Era National Monument lead team member. This panel will allow participants to broaden their knowledge on a topic that is featured in the play, but will be further expanded by the knowledge of our local experts.


MBMoore Photo.jpg

Michael B. Moore is a proud South Carolinian with a rich family history rooted in activism and public service. His ancestors include: Robert Smalls, a Civil War hero and Reconstruction Congressman, SC lawyer and legislator Samuel Jones Bampfield, and Judge Harold Boulware – who litigated the Briggs v. Elliott case and served on the legal team that won Brown v. Board of Education.

With a BA in Political Science from Syracuse University and an MBA from Duke University, Michael has a diverse background in business, having held leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial ventures, and non-profits. He has managed the largest brand in the world, led a pioneering internet software company, and served as CEO of both Glory Foods and the International African American Museum.

Recognized as one of Charleston Business Magazine’s 50 Most Influential, Michael received an honorary Doctorate in Public History from Dickinson College, and was honored with “Michael Boulware Moore Day” by the City of Charleston. 

Michael is currently a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s first congressional district.


Victoria Smalls, Executive Director, is a Gullah Geechee native of St. Helena Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, who specializes in Gullah Geechee history and culture, as a preservationist, historian, educator, artist, and arts advocate. She proudly served the National Park Service as a National Park Ranger with Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, served at Penn School National Historic Landmark District – Penn Center as Director of the History, Art and Culture Program, Director of the York W. Bailey Museum, and Assistant to the Executive Director, served as Program Manager for the International African American Museum in Charleston, SC, served as an educator for Beaufort County School District, and served as a Federal Commissioner on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. Ms. Smalls is a Leo Twiggs Arts Diversity Leadership Scholar, Riley Fellow in Diversity Leadership with The Riley Institute at Furman University, and is currently, a State Commissioner for the SC African American Heritage Commission. She attended South Carolina State University, Technical College of the Lowcountry, and University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Ms. Smalls is the newly appointed Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor National Heritage Area.  In this role, she helps to recognize, sustain, and celebrate the important contributions made to American culture and history by the Gullah Geechee; to assist federal, state, and local governments and public and private entities in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida in interpreting the story of the Gullah Geechee and preserving the culture for the benefit and education of the public.


Michael A. Allen grew up in Kingstree, South Carolina; he is a 1978 graduate of Kingstree Senior High, as well as a 1982 graduate of South Carolina State College with a degree in History Education. He began his public career with the National Park Service in 1980 as CO-OP Education Student. He has served as a Park Ranger, Education Specialist as well as the Community Partnership Specialist for The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor/Fort Sumter National Monument and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.  In 2014, he was assigned by the National Park Service to participate as a lead team member on The NPS Special Resource Landmark Study exploring the history and legacy of The Reconstruction Era in American History. Because of this groundbreaking effort, a new national park service site was establishment by Presidential Proclamation, Reconstruction Era National Monument on January 12, 2017.  In December 2017, Michael Allen retired from the National Park Service after a 37 and half years’ career of public service. He is also the husband of Latanya Prather and father of Brandon, Shaelyn and Isaiah. He lives in Mount Pleasant, SC and is active in community affairs.

Michael Allen has been a community activist for most of his professional life. He has a deep-seeded interest in our nation’s spiritual growth as it relates to the history and culture. He played a major role in the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study, which began in 2000. The Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study examined the feasibility and suitability of establishing educational centers as well as determining ways to increase interpretation and preservation of this valuable culture. The final report was presented to Congress in the May of 2005. In October of 2006 the US Congress through the leadership of fellow SCSU Alumnus Congressman James E. Clyburn, and the tireless support of Michael Allen the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act was passed which established the first and only African American National Heritage Area in the Country.  In October of 2007, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission, which was comprised of 25 Grassroots citizens’ members from all four states of the corridor. His primary responsibility was to ensure that this new National Heritage Area become a reality in an effort to provide hope, opportunity and support to grass root organizations and the wider Gullah Geechee Community. In October of 2009, he was formally elevated to the Director’s Position for the Corridor and directed the efforts of the corridor to develop a Management plan that will guide the operations of the corridor for the future.

Throughout his career, Michael Allen was involved in designing exhibits and presenting interpretive programs that involve local communities and history. These programs were designed to attract non-traditional audiences to National Park Service and other historic sites. He was instrumental in 1999, in erecting the “African Importation Historic Marker” on Sullivan Island; in 2008, he assisted the Toni Morrison Society and the College of Charleston in erecting a “Bench by the Road” commemorative bench at Fort Moultrie to memorialize the islands participation in the African slave trade. Finally, in 2009 he was instrumental in unveiling “African Passages” an exhibit that highlights the African arrival, presence and contributions to Gullah Geechee Culture and American society through the eyes of Africans and African American who passed through Sullivan Island on their way to be enslaved in the Charleston and beyond. An additional focus of his career has been the inclusion of the socio-economic and political influences that brought the country to Civil War. He was appointed and serve on the South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee that oversaw the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as well as the events of Reconstruction.

He also has been involved in a number of other innovative projects designed to engage new audiences in understanding and appreciating African and American history.  He was a founding Board Member of the International African American Museum, which is slated to open in January of 2023 in Charleston SC. It will offer a glimpse of Africans and African Americans contributions in the making of the modern world.  In addition to his association with the International African American Museum, in 1993 he was a founding member and former Vice President of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.  He was the past Treasure for the South Carolina Council for African American studies. He also served as a board member for a number of local and statewide organizations such as, The African American Historical Alliance, Habitat for Humanity’s East Cooper and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association and the Long Point Road Historic School Association. On June 11, 2013, Michael Allen received the 2013 Historic Preservation Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Governor Office, Palmetto Trust and the South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History. He was presented with the SC State University Distinguished Alumnus Award during Founders Day weekend on March 2, 2014.  In September 2014 Michael Allen, was recognized for his exemplary leadership in environmental issues at the George B. Hertzog Jr. Awards Luncheon, an annual event hosted by the Institute for Parks at Clemson University. The luncheon and lecture are named for Hartzog, the seventh director of the National Park Service. During the luncheon, Allen received the Robert G. Stanton Award, named in appreciation of the remarkable career of Stanton, the first African-American director of the National Park Service. The Robert G. Stanton Award recognizes recipients for sustained and innovative achievements in promoting racial or ethnic diversity in the management of North America’s natural, historic and cultural heritage. In 2015 The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission recognized Michael by presenting him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, Michael Allen received The Williamsburg County School District Hall of Fame Award as an outstanding graduate of Williamsburg County School system. In April 2019, Governor Henry McMaster recognized Michael with the Order of the Palmetto. This is the highest civilian award to be given to citizens of South Carolina by the Governor of the South Carolina.  In additional to these awards he has received a number of other awards from Fraternal, Civic, Governmental and Community organizations. In January of 2021 Michael received the Martin Luther King Portrait Awards. This award recognizes people who emulate the spirit of community service portrayed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, on October 21, 2021 Michael Allen was awarded the 2021 Governor’s Award in Humanities which recognize outstanding achievement in helping communities in South Carolina better understand our cultural heritage.

Since his retirement he is still active and vested in preserving the life, legacy, contributions and heritage of African Americans in the context of SC and US history. He was instrumental in assisting Historic Charleston Foundation in the management of the Mosquito Beach Civil Rights Project (2018-2020). This NPS funded project on James Island, resulted in the nomination and inclusion of this Historic Civil Rights landscape to the NPS National Register of Historic Places in October of 2019. In additional, in February 2020 a website was created and launched to capture the humanitarian spirit of this valuable resource. In addition, a SC State Historic Marker and interpretative panels will soon be place near the entrance to Mosquito beach and along the historic corridor of this site. In August of 2019 Michael partnered with Reconstruction Beaufort a community and nationwide efforts to highlight the history and legacy of the Reconstruction Period. He served as the former Chair of the Advisory Board for this organization. This effort was developed to enhance the capacity of the Reconstruction Era National Historic Site as well as to assist with enhance educational awareness of this challenging period in American History.

Michael currently serves as Community Preservation Specialist at SC State University his Alma Mater in Orangeburg SC. Michael is supporting the University in managing a HBCU grant from the National Park Service. This grant is funding the restoration and rehabilitation of Wilkinson Hall one of the oldest structure on the campus of South Carolina State University. His primary responsibilities are to ensure that the restoration of Wilkinson Hall adhere to the NPS HBCU grant guidelines, additional all of the quarterly and yearly reports are developed and submitted by Mr. Allen. Finally, his tenure with the National Park Service creates a professional, cordial and open relationship between SCSU and the National Park Service.

As you can see, Michael Allen’s professional and personal career has been filled with accomplishment after accomplishment. Throughout it all his kindness, compassion and empathy have led to bridge community gaps and helped community leaders understand each other in a more meaningful way.

Finally, Michael’s motto is, “to understand the present and move toward the future, you must first know and accept your past.

WEBSITE Tastee Treats SC

Meet the Creative Team

JaMeeka D. Holloway, Director, Script Development

Teralyn Reiter, Original Story, Script Development

Charlton Singleton, Musical Director

Celeste Jennings, Costume Designer, Script Development

Kathy Perkins, Lighting Designer

Tristan André Parks, Movement Director

Joseph Amodei, Media Designer

Damon Fordham, Historian/Dramaturge

MeJah Balams, Set Designer

Jacqueline E. Lawton, Racial Equity Facilitator

Caroline Randall Williams, Script Development

Carla Thomas, Assistant Costume Designer

Dr. Jessica Berry, Gullah Cultural Consultant

Becca Eddins, Production Supervisor

Preston Dunnavant, Sound Designer

Meet the Cast

Aydan Gadsden, Robert Smalls, Younger

Joshua Suiter, “Smalls”, Young Adult Robert

Keith Alston, Robert Smalls, Older

Michele Powe, Lydia (Robert’s Mother)

Zania Cummings, Hannah (Robert’s Wife)

John Smalls, Jones +

Shanna Hastie, Gibbes +

Ronnie Walker, Gourdine +

Sadia Matthews, Morrison +

R.W. Smith, Captain Rayela, Ben Tillman +

Support for this program is made possible by

Mr. Jeffrey M. Weingarten
Mary and Mason Holland
Jonathan Green
Roger & Teresa Jones
Deborah Kennedy Kennard & William E. Kennard
Nella Gray Barkley
Celeste & Charles Patrick
Mrs. Martha R Ingram, Martha Rivers Ingram Advised Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
The Chalmers Fund – Lee Bell and Fotios Pantazis

Brenda Lauderback & Dr. Boyd Wright
Beacon Theatrical Services Inc.
Dee M. Robinson
Dr. Daniel J. Smith & Dr. James F. Mellichamp
Dr. Renée Dobbins Anderson
Joyce Green
Cathy Marino
J. Scott Bauer & Anne Bavier
Jennifer Chestnut Comer
Dr. and Mrs. Robert and Kathy Heller