Monday, October 13, 2008

Henry "Box" Brown


Every child needs to read Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, and every adult in America should at least be familiar with this true story of a runaway slave in Virginia whose 3 children and wife were ripped away from him against his will, who burned his own hand to the bone with vitriol to get a day off from work so he can ship himself in a crate, with the help of abolitionists, to the free Northern state of Pennsylvania. For every person who thinks African Americans should shut up or "stop whining about racism", there is someone whose heart would be touched by such a story, and who would understand that terror takes longer to leave a person's soul than just a couple of generations. After all, we inherit our family's pain because we love them, and considering many people alive today still have memories that haunt them such as segregation (separate water fountains, schools, not being allowed in restaurants) as recently as in the 1960s, a few generations aren't really that long ago in history, not enough to erase the kinds of wounds we probably can't even fathom. This Columbus Day, I hope we take time to hear a different, yet equally true and important, part of American history than we might have traditionally been taught.

It doesn't take much to plainly see how racism hasn't left our lives here in the United States and elsewhere, especially where people don't come in contact with people of African descent on a regular basis. I pray we all learn a little sensitivity and empathy so we can create a more peaceful world. We cry out when it hurts. We can not tell people what is and isn't racist any more than we can tell women what is and isn't sexist. That would be ignorance. So when will we stop to listen? It's not too late to be part of the solution.

Finally, to those white-eyed and disillusioned ones who still don't understand why we need sensitivity, I will say stop trying to microanalyze everything into a neat little "what's-perfectly-fair-or-unfair" box, and try a little human compassion. It takes the place of judgment and makes us kinder = better people.

Read: Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself: Electronic Edition. Henry Box Brown, b. 1816

Read more about Henry "Box" Brown on Wikipedia.

(Image: docsouth.unc.edu)