In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) appointed Smalls as the customs collector for the Port of Beaufort. He was in charge of collecting fees from international merchants who shipped goods into the United States. Smalls also married schoolteacher Annie Elizabeth Wigg that year (his first wife had died seven years earlier). They had a son together, William.
In 1895, South Carolina held another convention to rewrite the state constitution. This time, however, the idea was to roll back many of the reforms that had taken place during Reconstruction. Only 6 of the 160 delegates to the convention were black. Racist white people had used violence to intimidate black people so that they would not vote or try to hold office. As a result, whites had gradually returned to power throughout the South, and they passed many laws discriminating against blacks. Smalls knew that the proposed changes to South Carolina's constitution would hurt black people. In a speech at the convention, he said: "My race needs no special defenses. For the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life."
Smalls was not successful in his efforts to prevent discrimination from returning to South Carolina. However, he remained in his job as customs collector for twenty years before retiring in 1913. He died on February 22, 1915, at the age of seventy-five. Since he was still a considered a hero in the black community, his funeral was the largest ever to take place in the town of Beaufort.
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