HENRY BOX BROWN – A Musical Journey

The cream of New York gospel and R&B singers, plus leading Off Broadway performers, are coming to the Edinburgh Fringe with a new musical telling the true story of an 1850s Virginia slave who was shipped to freedom in a box

Henry Box Brown is directed by Tony Award winner Ben Harney (Broadway’s Dream Girls) and has been created by co-composers Oscar nominee – Best Original Score, Jack Lenz (Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ) writer, Mehr Mansuri and and New York City composer, Frank Sanchez. The spirituals have been arranged by Gospel Music Directors, Eric Dozier and Renee Reid.

Born into slavery in Louisa County, Brown worked in a Richmond tobacco factory. In 1848 his children and pregnant wife were sold to new owners in North Carolina. Brown resolved to escape slavery and enlisted the help of a white churchman and a slave-owning gambler. In later life Brown became a prominent abolitionist, a performer, musician and a published author. He spent many years in Britain.

Mansuri says: “This is Les Miserables set in the American south, but the good guys are not so obvious. The show is driven by original songs blending gospel, R&B, bluegrass as well as ‘a capella’ original negro spirituals. It’s a crowd-pleaser that shines a light on the human ability to transcend.”

While US history is rich with African American heroes there is next to nothing in the American musical theatre cannon that puts any of them centre stage. After 19 years of working in NYC public schools in deprived areas, and creating theatre for African American audiences, Mehr decided the time had come to change this.

She set up the Henry Box Musical Project to allow African American students and young audiences to celebrate their own history and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit from a distinctly African American experience.

The musical is championed by the Baha’i Unity Center and New York University’s Office of Governance and Community Affairs. It has grown into a thrilling a 16-person production with fabulous singers from New York’s Christian Cultural Center where it had a brief run which attracted praise from many quarters.

Venue: Assembly Rooms, Music Hall, George Street, EH2 2LR
Time: 14:30. Running Time: 90 mins
Dates: 02-26 AUG PREVIEWS: 02-05 August. NO SHOWS: Wed 8, Mon 13, Mon 20 – August.
Tickets: £7 previews, £13 for midweek; £15 on weekends
Bookings: assemblyfestival.com, 0131 623 3030


Ms Mansuri’s splendid anti-racism work “Henry Box Brown” is rightly cited here and in her choral work with kids given that in the prevailing order today children by osmosis may take on board a racist mindset though they’re born inherently anti-racist! The huge social change Mehr seeks, she freely admits, is based on the fundamental Baha’i principles re the oneness of humankind, justice for all, and relinquishing of prejudice, B-U-T, a crucial element of the Baha’i cure is virtually non-existent in her current thinking:


An international auxiliary language foils the scourge of racial prejudice once and for all: “Therefore the very first service to the world of man is to establish this auxiliary international means of communication. It will become the cause of the tranquillity of the human commonwealth. Through it sciences and arts will be spread among the nations and it will prove to be the means of the progress and development of ALL RACES.”

Abdu’l Baha,1912, to the Esperantists of D.C. (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p60)

Nothing short of a transformation of society and a revolutionary rethink regarding the racist (and sexist!) languages of the slave traders is called for! That the victims’ most articulate champions — whether as intellectuals advocating in civil society, as academics in respected institutions, or among religionists and even in the African American and indigenous communities now that their cultures and languages have largely been taken from them — one and all deploy, almost exclusively, those demeaned imperial languages instrumental in enslaving their forbears strikes the two million strong diaspora of Esperantists as a grotesquely sad and avoidable irony.

For the global village, as distinct from the USA alone, racism is such a disgustingly destructive blight that society totters on the brink of civil war. Love of course is the only solution but a catalyst, a circuit breaker, is urgently needed for uniting humankind: “Unless the unity of language is realised, the ‘Most Great Peace’ and THE ONENESS OF THE HUMAN WORLD cannot be e-f-f-e-c–t-i-v-e-l-y organised and established; because the function of language is to portray the mysteries and secrets of human hearts. The heart is like a box and language is the key. We can open the box only by using the key, and observe the gems it contains.” (PUP)

Beneficiaries of the world’s most ‘successful’ colonial language impact minimally the racist status quo in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India, New Zealand, South Africa, USA etc while indifferent to the uniquely Baha’i principle of an auxiliary international language or down-playing advantages inherited as privileged native speakers of English, whose culture and history in the last three centuries are ruined by racist acts, a continuum that props up endemically institutionalised racism so abhorred by the righteous.

Notwithstanding splendid Baha’i efforts at tamping down ignition of racism’s consuming fire, an essential extinguisher, a language arranged with utmost care and good-will and far-removed from the tongues of slavery’s overlords, has shamefully gone largely untapped by intellectuals, linguists and politicians. Not since interbellum decades and when Abdul Baha, H G Wells, Tolstoy, Lu Xun, Jack London, Jules Verne, Rudolf Diesel, Tagore, Lord Baden-Powell and other great thinkers in the East and the West called for a second language for all school kids, has academe, the arts, government, the judiciary, the media, the professions or religion seriously investigated the peace-making potential of Esperanto and its non-religious, non-political, non-aligned, anti-racism peace movement. Nine key paragraphs in Dr. Zamenhof’s 1906 Geneva speech pinpoint his position on Esperantism whose internal idea is the very antithesis of racism:

* https://gumroad.com/l/making_world_peace_real/ p24-26.
free online in Esperanto at the University of Georgia, USA:

* http://bahai.uga.edu/Realigas_la_Mondan_Pacon.pdf

The English edition successfully passed the arduous criteria of Baha’i review in 2003

Astoundingly few Baha’i scholars, administrators or artists seem aware that Abdul Baha specified a language in common as “the cause of love between the children of men. It will cause GOOD FELLOWSHIP BETWEEN THE VARIOUS RACES”. (ibid * p45) He expanded on Esperanto by instructing: “every one of us must study this language and spread it as far as possible.” (ibid * p45) as recorded in an authoritative Baha’i text translated into hundreds of languages, Baha’i leaders of our time should note, I feel.

Abdu’l Baha’s chapter 2 of ‘Divine Philosophy’ and his ‘Paris Talks’ (ibid * p50) entwine the auxiliary language principle with a mighty Tribunal representing all tribes and nations whose goal will be the implementing of world peace. See also ‘Gleanings from Writings of Baha’u’llah’, CXV11 (ibid * p37)

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