Sgt. Zachary Goodman, with 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, receives a challenge coin from Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, March 9 at the BOSS center. Goodman wrote the winning essay for the Fort Drum Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program Black History Month writing competition. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Zachary Goodman, with 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, receives a challenge coin from Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, March 9 at the BOSS center. Goodman wrote the winning essay for the Fort Drum Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program Black History Month writing competition. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Michael Strasser) VIEW ORIGINAL
Sgt. Zachary Goodman, with 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, receives a challenge coin from Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, March 9 at the BOSS center. Goodman wrote the winning essay for the Fort Drum Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program Black History Month writing competition. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Zachary Goodman, with 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, receives a challenge coin from Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, March 9 at the BOSS center. Goodman wrote the winning essay for the Fort Drum Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program Black History Month writing competition. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Michael Strasser) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 10, 2021) -- Before Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream of equality for all, Robert Smalls, a former slave and Civil War soldier, paved the way for future generations of activists.

Sgt. Zachary Goodman, with 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, was inspired by Smalls’ story and knew he had the perfect subject for the Fort Drum Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program Black History Month writing competition.

“About two weeks before I heard about the competition, I was scrolling through Facebook and Robert Smalls popped across my timeline,” Goodman said. “It looked interesting, and then when I read about him I was amazed by what he did.”

At the start of the Civil War, Smalls was forced to work aboard a Confederate armed transport ship, which he used to escape with his family and other slaves. After surrendering the boat to the Union Army, Smalls advocated for the inclusion of Blacks in the military. He would serve in both the Union Army and Navy during the war before entering politics as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Known as a great orator and debater, Smalls fought for the Civil Bill of Rights before winning election to the 5th Congressional District in South Carolina. He spent the rest of his life bringing civil rights to national attention before he died in 1915, at the age of 75.

“The fact that he was able to steal a Confederate ship, then join the Union Army and – not 10 years later – he was already the first African American congressman, I just knew this was someone I wanted to write about,” Goodman said.

“People know about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks,” Goodman continued. “That’s a part of history that is taught a lot. But then there are so many people who were championing for equal rights before those famous leaders, and we aren’t as familiar with them.”

As a history major who is also taking English courses in college, Goodman said that he enjoys writing and that he needed no motivation to enter the essay contest.

“Writing is just something I’ve always loved doing, and I’d like to be an author someday,” he said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, congratulated Goodman on his winning essay and presented him with a challenge coin March 9 at the BOSS center.

“I didn’t actually think I had a chance, with all the people who could have submitted an essay,” Goodman said. “But I was ecstatic when I heard I won.”