by Lorne Holden
This week is African American History week and I am thrilled to share two stories of remarkable African Americans who lived their lives with courage and creativity.
Henry Box Brown
Henry Box Brown was a Virginia slave in the 19th century. Having lost his wife and all of his children when they were sold to another owner, he hatched a wild and ingenious plan to mail himself to freedom in a large wooden crate. As arduous and dangerous as the journey was, he nonetheless succeeded and his inventive escape made him a symbol for the Underground Railway. There is a terrific children’s book about this story by Ellen Levine entitled “Henry’s Freedom Box” and for grown ups, there’s a fascinating book available by historian Henry Louis Gates. More about this amazing character can be seen on the plaque pictured below.
Nora Zeale Hurston
“I love myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was a folklorist, anthropologist and author. Along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, she was a member the “Harlem Renaissance,” a group of writers and performers who migrated to New York in the early part of the 20th century. These artists sparked a time of great cultural renewal for African Americans in the city. Other well known Harlem Renaissance artists were the incredible Josephine Baker and tap dancer Bill “Bojanges” Robinson.
Hurston is best known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” But it was her autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road” that first captured my attention. A page turner, it chronicles her life in the town of Eatonville, Florida which was one of the first all black towns to be incorporated in America. It was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. She grew up to have an extraordinary sense of herself and pursued a higher education at Howard University and later at Barnard College.
She later went on to travel and write ethnographic research, particularly about life in the Caribbean. She was a bold, sassy character and her life was not without controversy. She was often chided for not writing enough about race, but she often said that what interested her was life itself. Her guts and beautiful sense of self led her to make comments such as:
“Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
Ultimately, she faded from the public eye and died in a welfare home in Florida. She was buried in an unmarked grave until 1973 when the author Alice Walker and scholar Charlotte Hunt found an area of a cemetary thought to have her remains and marked a grave with her name. A wonderful website celebrating her life and work is here. Take a moment to visit and learn about more about this remarkable voice in American literature.
Lorne Holden is an artist and author of the Bestseller “MAKE IT HAPPEN in Ten Minutes a Day/The Simple, Lifesaving Method for Getting Things Done.” Click the link and learn more about her great book and then grab a copy!