About the Holiday
National Freedom Day was created by a former slave named Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. and was established as a national holiday on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The observance commemorates the day in 1865 when Abraham Lincoln signed a resolution that would become the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment was ratified almost one year later by each state and outlawed slavery.
Today, people often celebrate National Freedom Day by laying a wreath at the Liberty Bell, which is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry Brown was born a slave. He didn’t know his birthday and he never knew security. “Like autumn leaves are torn from the trees,” his mother tells him, “slave children can be torn from their families.” When Henry’s master calls him to his sickbed, Henry hopes to be freed, but instead, his mother’s fear comes true. Henry is taken away and grows up far from his family, learning to be careful not to make mistakes that will bring severe punishment.
One day Henry, now a young man, falls in love with Nancy, a slave on another plantation. Henry and Nancy marry and are allowed to live together despite being owned by separate masters. Henry and Nancy have three children and are living happily.
But one day Nancy tells Henry that her master’s plantation is in financial trouble. She is afraid her master will sell their children to make money. The idea strikes fear into Henry’s heart. The next day Henry learns that indeed Nancy and his children have been sold. He knows he can show no emotion, but “his heart twisted in his chest.”
Henry runs to the town square and sees his children and Nancy being driven away. Henry is devastated. Time passes and Henry thinks about freedom. Lifting a crate used for shipping tobacco gives him an ingenious idea. He will mail himself to the North, where he can be free.
Henry’s friends agree to help him, and although they’re afraid he will be discovered, they seal him into a wooden box, address it to people in Philadelphia, and send him off. The crate is handled roughly throughout the journey north, and Henry must endure pain for many hours. Henry finally arrives safely in Philadelphia on March 30, 1849. Known from then on as Henry “Box” Brown, he became one of the most famous runaway slaves in America.
Based on an actual story of The Underground Railway, Henry’s Freedom Box is written and illustrated to stunning effect. Ellen Levine’s lyrical and metaphorical language combines with the excellent pacing of the pages to enhance the emotional impact of this powerful and original true story. Children will be inspired by this man who suffered devastating loss, but persevered and through cunning, bravery, and the help of friends, obtained freedom.
Kadir Nelson took inspiration for his illustrations from an antique lithograph of Henry Brown, created by Samuel Rowse in 1850. Through a combination of watercolor and oils crosshatched with pencil lines, Nelson’s richly hued paintings capture the poignancy of Henry’s struggles and ultimate freedom. His characters’ facial expressions are particularly moving.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad is a riveting story of slavery and one man’s fight for freedom that would make an excellent addition to children’s libraries.
To view a gallery of books and other illustration work by Kadir Nelson, visit his website!
Ages 4 – 8
Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733
National Freedom Day Activity
Create Your Own Freedom Stamp
If you were going to create a postage stamp representing freedom, what would it look like? Think about what freedom means to you, then grab some colored pencils and design your own stamp!
- Freedom Stamp template – Get it here!
- Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
- Print the Freedom Stamp template
- Draw your own design about what freedom means to you
- Cut out the stamp and display it in your room or in a common area of your home
- Inside the stamp template write a letter to:
- Someone in the Military: Thank them for their service to the United States to help keep our country free. You can learn how to send letters to members of the military here.
- Your Teacher: Thank your teacher for all of her or his hard work. Only through education can we really be free.
- Someone else who inspires you: Tell this person why they inspire you and thank them for their work.
- Give your Freedom Stamp letter to the person it is written to
Picture Book Review