As we contemplate our actions amidst the disasters occurring all around the world, the thoughts we choose to act on defines us and our futures. 

Henry “Box” Brown chose to pursue his dream to create a “world where his life belongs to him.” What can we learn from Henry to mould the world we want for us, our children, and our planet? 

Who is Henry “Box” Brown? (Spoiler Alert!)

In Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, readers learn about Henry’s dream to leave his life as a slave in Virginia 1815. Henry’s story gives readers a glimpse of the loss and heartbreak slave families experience as “slave children are torn from their families” like “leaves are torn from trees.” 

Throughout his life, Henry did not have anything for himself – he did not have a birthday. Society robbed Henry of his mother, siblings, father, wife, and three children. He spent his youth enduring the unjust lifestyle he was born into and conforming to everyone who had more “power” and authority over him. 

One day, Henry decided to leave Virginia and live a life where he could be happy. With the help of two acquaintances, James and Dr. Smith, Henry forced his body into a box to be mailed to one of Dr. Smith’s friends in Philadelphia. 

How does Henry’s story affect us?

Like other children’s books, such as Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg, authors want to educate our youth about unresolved issues in our world that they can change with their actions. Through stories, for children and adults, we can try to empathize with the characters as we learn about their experiences concerning the subject matter in the book. 

According to scholastic.com, the two Big Questions: Critical Thinking moment that the publishing company urges teachers to discuss with their students are: 

“Why does Henry decide to risk his life for freedom?” 

“What place represents freedom where [the students] feel most free?” 

Even when we are not in school, we need to learn to think about these questions and how our actions affect everyone around us. How are we acting to help create a world worth living in for ourselves, everyone around us, and future generations?

What Should We Do with Henry’s Freedom Box?

People refer to Henry’s story as “one of the Underground Railroad’s most famous runaway slaves.” The inspirational aspect of Henry’s story is Henry himself. Henry’s perseverance to fight against all his odds to live the life he wants and deserves is to live as an equal human being to everyone else on our planet. 

As we continue to combat ongoing racial and health concerns around the world, we need to persevere, like Henry, to fight for a world where we can all live comfortably without the fear of being oppressed by each other. 

Being adults and young adults, we can act – even in small increments – and educate ourselves and others to learn, like Henry, to create a better future for everyone. 

Continue Learning

If you would like to learn about Henry’s story, check your local digital library to read his story or watch Steve Syrato’s short film of Henry’s Freedom Box

Learn more about addressing “big questions” in children’s books in Just A Dream by Chris Van Allsburg.

Works Cited: 

Henry’s Freedom Box provided by Kanopy. Directed by Steve Syrato, featuring Jerry Dixon, West Woods Studios, Inc., 2009. 

Levine, Ellen. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad. New York, Scholastic Press, 2007. 

Image Credits: 

  1. “man’s hand and chains” Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash; https://unsplash.com/collections/2227492/hands