Skip to Content

College of Arts and Sciences

  • Engraving of Roberts Smalls next to an engraving of a steamer ship. 1862 image.

PBS NewsHour features USC’s Nikky Finney and Nancy Tolson

This February, two professors from the College of Arts and Sciences appeared in segments on PBS’s nightly news program, highlighting unique contributions to Black history. 

Nancy Tolson, assistant director of the Department of African American Studies, contributed to a feature about Robert Smalls, an enslaved individual who was conscripted into the Confederate Army during the Civil War. 

The segment details how Smalls was forced to work on “the Planter” a steamer ship in Charleston Harbor. One night, he and the other enslaved men aboard took over the ship and navigated into Union waters, securing their freedom. 

“He became this legend,” Tolsen says. “He was truly an American hero and one of the people that just does not get enough credit pertaining to the Civil War.”

Watch the PBS NewsHour segment for more of Smalls’ remarkable story.


Honoring Black history then and now 

PBS NewsHour also featured The Department of English Language and Literature’s Nikki Finney in a documentary segment about her life, family and current work at USC. 

Finney directs the Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Cultural Arts Center in Columbia, SC. Located in a 1940s airplane hangar, the center is in a part of downtown home to a once vibrant Black neighborhood, and Finney’s goal is to nurture the community through this new Black arts institution, offering classes, artist residencies, studio space and events.  

The center is named for Finney’s father, who was major player in Southern history, becoming the first Black chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court since Reconstruction. She wrote and read a poem to commemorate his 1994 swearing-in ceremony. 

“I had never seen my father cry before that moment," Finney says.

"And I think he understood the power of words and the power of poetry in that moment of documenting this incredible historical moment for the state of South Carolina,”

Nikky Finney says she is heavily influenced by her father’s sense of justice, which has inspired her work as a poet, advocate and educator. Through the new center, she is honoring his legacy and empowering Black artists and creators in the community, now and for the future. 

For more on the Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Cultural Arts Center and Nikky Finney’s work at USC, in Columbia, SC, and beyond, watch the PBS NewsHour segment.

Banner: Robert Smalls in "Harper's Weekly," June 14, 1862. Library of Congress.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.