I don’t know if it’s true everywhere, but our customers like to share their stories and their lives with us. This story begins with the February book selection for our Children’s Braille Book Club. Since it’s Black History Month, we chose Henry’s Freedom Box. I didn’t think that much about our decision; we had featured Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and even President Obama in previous years. So when a parent called to ask about February’s selection, I said, “It’s about a man, a slave, who wanted his freedom so badly he mailed himself up North in a crate.” Silence. “It’s…a true story.” No response. “I mean, he arrived safely…It turned out okay.”
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that not every parent is comfortable exposing a child to the painful legacy of our past. I thought, how do we decide how and when to tell our children the truth about the sordid facts of American history? Do we wait until they hear about it for the first time in history class?
Then Liane Getty called, describing herself as “the proud mother of two beautiful young boys, Liam, age 9, and Brandon, age 7.” She told me the amazing story of how she and her husband had taken a trip to The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “My husband, Todd, said he had to show me something,” said Liane, who is blind. “He placed my hands on a 2×3-foot wooden crate. I am honestly thinking to myself, what’s the big deal about a wooden crate? Then my husband started reading me a story about a slave named Henry who mailed himself to freedom. I told my husband that I had just seen that book on NBP’s website—how coincidental is that!
“My boys returned to the lobby, upset and frightened about what they saw at the exhibit. When I asked them what was so scary, they said ‘everything with the slaves.’ It occurred to me that they did not realize that the Civil War was about slavery. I tried to think of something encouraging to say, and I remembered one of your print/braille magnets with the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: Do one thing every day that scares you.
“I repeated Eleanor’s encouraging words and explained to the boys that if Henry did not do that one thing that scared him that day, he might never have gained his freedom. My beautiful boys took a deep breath and said, ‘We’re ready to go back to the exhibit.’”
What an amazing mom. She had decided she wanted to be the one to tell them the truth. I said, “We’ll mail Henry out this week, in a box. So he’ll arrive safely.”