Friday, June 19, 2015

The Coup, "Laugh, Love, Fuck" + How Henry "Box" Brown Mailed Himself To Freedom

Here's some fun Marxist hip-hop from Boots Riley and the Coup.

One of the more delightful stories of slaves escaping to the North is that of Henry "Box" Brown, who got some money together, bought a box, and mailed himself to a Philadelphia abolitionist.
To get out of work the day he was to escape, Brown burned his hand to the bone with oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid). The box that Brown was shipped in was 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide and displayed the words "dry goods" on it. It was lined with baize, a coarse woollen cloth, and he carried only a small portion of water and a few biscuits. There was a single hole cut for air and it was nailed and tied with straps. Brown later wrote that his uncertain method of travel was worth the risk: "if you have never been deprived of your liberty, as I was, you cannot realize the power of that hope of freedom, which was to me indeed, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast."
During the trip, which began on March 29, 1849, Brown's box was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon, being completed in 27 hours. Despite the instructions on the box of "handle with care" and "this side up," several times carriers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly. Brown remained still and avoided detection. 
The box was received by Williamson, McKim, William Still, and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee on March 30, 1849, attesting to the improvements in express delivery services. When Brown was released, one of the men remembered his first words as "How do you do, gentlemen?" He sang a psalm from the Bible, which he had earlier chosen to celebrate his release into freedom.
The article goes on to discuss the role of the postal service in promoting freedom, both in this fashion and by allowing abolitionist pamphlets to get to the South. Apparently Frederick Douglass wanted Brown to keep quiet about his escape, so that more slaves could mail themselves to freedom, but Brown was a bit too eager to tell people about his unusual journey.