Several years ago, Lost Art Press hired Suzanne Ellison to spend several months looking through public archives for anything she could find related to Boyd’s life. She uncovered a fascinating life story, dispelled myths and uncovered some important truths. Suzanne’s work is always nothing short of impressive. As Suzanne wrote in this post:
Using historical documents and contemporaneous accounts we can reconstruct much of what Boyd did in his life and we can extrapolate ideas that were important to him. He was, however, always living in two worlds. At his birth, his white father owned him and his mother was enslaved; he received an education likely denied to others. He could start a successful business, prosper and be well-regarded, but his public life was proscribed by state Black Laws and threats of violence. He had a law-abiding public life countered by a dangerous hidden life of illegal acts to help escaped slaves. We can try to imagine how he felt to truly be a citizen and cast his first vote, but we can’t even get close. About his suffering while enslaved, or once he was free, we will never know.
We’ve shared Suzanne’s research with local museums, and it was the foundation upon which the Cincinnati History Museum created its installation on Boyd. This research also served as the foundation for Whitney’s wonderful picture book, “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed.”
If you don’t already follow Whitney on Instagram, you should. Her account is one of our favorites to follow. Check it out all month long as she shares facts about Boyd both in the book and not. These clips, suitable for all ages, serve as a great way for children to learn more about Boyd’s life too.
Whitney Miller, author of “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed,” continued looking for a news reporter position while working at Walgreens from October to December 2014, and in December she was hired as Morning Show Associate Producer/Digital Content at Fox Television KRIV in Houston.
“I was a behind-the-scenes journalist so I would write stories,” she says. “And they would let me create videos on their Facebook page. I remember writing a reporter story for Facebook and they liked it so much they let another anchor read the story and aired it on television. I was like, ‘Well, if what I wrote and put together was good enough for somebody else to read, then I should be able to read it.’ I was only there for a year and then I got back on air in another market, which was the normal trajectory of how it should have been. But it was good because I got to see what a big market was like.”
In November 2015, Whitney was hired by KBTX, the CBS affiliate in Bryan/College Station, Texas.
“I loved it,” Whitney says. “I was finally back in the saddle, back where I was supposed to be. I was there less than a year and started anchoring. Then I became the weekend anchor for three years after that. In College Station I became a professional woman, because in that community, they really love their news people. Especially if you’re from Texas, they really embrace you. And I also learned how much I really liked to tell stories. I got to meet so many people who believed in the work I was doing.”
Throughout her life Whitney has been the type of person who, if she sees something she likes, she tries to make it before she buys it.
“I think that was grown out of lack, not having enough money to get all the things,” she says. “When I was younger it was friendship bracelets and tie-dyed shirts – just things that everybody made, I tried to make.”
The internet broadened Whitney’s horizons. Online she was introduced to new ways of doing things and while living in College Station, she found a lot of ideas on Pinterest.
“I wanted to decorate my apartment but I needed to do it on a budget,” she says. “So I would look up stuff and I’d be like, ‘Oh! I want to make this farmhouse table!’ I met a family owned business, Country Thang Design, who made farmhouse tables and they showed me how to make one. I remember feeling like, ‘I can do this.’”
Whitney made her own headboard, and some headboards for friends. She learned how to sew and DIY T-shirts. And then, in 2017, her best friend bought her a Cricut Maker machine.
“I have been really crafty since then,” she says. “Every time I get access to a new kind of tool or knowledge, it just unlocks more creativity.”
Whitney doesn’t call herself a seamstress though. And for the longest time, she has refused to call herself an artist.
“It’s how I feel about journalism, I know a little bit about a lot,” she says. “Is a jack of all trades somebody who knows a little bit about everything? I’m like a jack of all trades. I like everything. I have tried everything but I have not mastered everything. I think to call yourself a seamstress, to call yourself an artist, you have to know everything about it. I think there’s some doubt there, I’m sure.”
But it’s not a negative feeling, she says. Rather, she has longer preferred to call herself a maker versus someone who is creative.
“I feel like I’m changing that now, now that this book has been created. I would say I’m creative at this point. I had the ability to draw in the past. When I was a kid, I took classes but it was never like, ‘Oh, you’re such a talented artist.’ Back then once I learned a technique of some kind, like these roses, that’s all I would draw. It wasn’t like I was coming up with anything new.”
“Which is weird, yes, but now I am,” she says. “Now I agree. But in the process of making it, I was like, ‘Uh, but are we? But am I?’ Because the early drawings were trash. It was like, ‘What are those?’”
From The Queen City to The Big Easy
In November 2019, Whitney left College Station, Texas.
“Growth has to happen,” she says. “I got to the point where I mastered College Station. There wasn’t an opportunity to be promoted to the main anchor role. I just knew I either needed to get to a bigger market and continue reporting, or I needed to anchor somewhere. I started looking for jobs once my contract ended. Cincinnati was my next stop.”
At the time, Whitney, who was hired as a reporter at WCPO, says Cincinnati felt like a wonderful situation. What she did not foresee – nor did anyone foresee – was a pandemic.
“I just packed up my life and moved,” she says. “ I just knew I was about to live my ‘Sex and the City’ life,” she adds, laughing. “I envisioned myself walking down the street next to the stadium holding my cute little dog, Derwin, and some football player, doctor or lawyer was going to stop me and say, ‘Oh my God lets get married.’ None of that happened! None of that happened. And that was very disappointing. Instead, there was this whole pandemic and I sat in the house with Derwin instead!” she laughs.
Whitney was a reporter for three years until she announced her departure and new job as a weekend news anchor at WWL-TV Channel 4 in New Orleans.
“I didn’t pick New Orleans, I think New Orleans chose me,” she says.
For more than 10 years Whitney has been a reporter and at this point in her career, she’s ready to grow as an anchor. She entertained several markets but once New Orleans became an option, nothing else made sense, she says.
“Part of that is the acceptance I feel in New Orleans. The people, the vibe, the culture is just so open. Especially coming from a place where I feel like it’s very closed, people in Cincinnati are tight and I feel like it takes years to be fully accepted there. I’ve made a lot of friends and met a lot of wonderful people in Ohio but that hospitality piece is just unmatched in the South. Nobody can beat that, especially New Orleans. It’s such a place of gathering and festiveness.”
Whitney will be living in the city, about a mile or two away from the French Quarter. Although she grew up in the suburbs and loves a good Target-Michaels-Jo-Anne’s situation, she enjoys the diversity and eclectic atmosphere city-life brings.
“I’m so excited,” she says about the move. “I can’t wait. It’s literally, it’s a dream. It’s a dream.”
The Magic Mountain
Christopher Schwarz has long been interested in Henry Boyd. Suzanne Ellison, Lost Art Press’s intrepid researcher, began researching Boyd years ago, and discovered a rich and impressive story about an enslaved Black man who bought his freedom, invented a revolutionary bedstead, built a woodworking business that shipped beds all over the country and helped enslaved people escape to freedom.
Meanwhile, Christopher wife, Lucy May, worked with Whitney Miller as a digital reporter at WCPO. (Lucy is now host of Cincinnati Edition on 91.7, WVXU.) Lucy introduced Whitney to Christopher, and Whitney took a class at Lost Art Press. It soon became clear that Whitney, with her backstory, passion for making and writing chops, was the perfect fit for writing a children’s book about Boyd’s life. Christopher asked and Whitney immediately agreed.
“For the longest time nothing would happen,” Whitney says. “It would just be one sentence on the page, no matter where I sat. If I went to a bookstore, if I went to a library, I couldn’t get out more than one sentence. I would read and read the research and I would try to come up with something and I would just think, ‘How are kids going to relate to this? How can I speak to kids so they will listen?’ And then I went to that mountain, the magic mountain. And the words just came out.”
Whitney has a friend who owns a retreat area in Whitwell, Tennessee, near Chattanooga called Bolt Farm Treehouse. Last summer they decided to meet and catch up. They originally planned to meet somewhere in the middle but after not being able to find a place, Whitney decided to drive and meet her friend in Tennessee. Along the way she saw fields and cabins – landscapes that looked like, in her mind, what the landscape might have looked like in Henry Boyd’s time. And that’s when the trip started to feel like it was meant to be.
“For me, the book writing process was very reaffirming because of how and where and which it all came out. Because it all came out at time in such a calm peaceful place just meant to me that it was meant to be. The reason I was on the mountain was not planned. The timing in which all the things occurred was not planned. Writing the book was not planned. None of it was planned. But when it happened it happened and it was so good.”
Something similar happened while illustrating the book. At first Whitney says she was frustrated and worried that she bit off more than she could chew. But then she put her journalist hat on and her maker hat on and researched – she figured out what she had to do. And then she found herself unexpectedly back at the magic mountain.
“It was another unplanned trip back,” she says. “And up there my creative juices started flowing so I was able to knock out a lot of pages and the timing was perfect.”
In August, Whitney began to feel the pressure of time. She had a big journalism convention coming up, weddings to attend, and her drawings weren’t done. The day she was flying out to her convention in Las Vegas, she had three more pages to draw. The flight was delayed. So, she began working on the pages. As she drew, the flight continued to be delayed. There was talk of cancellation. Whitney kept drawing. And just as she finished her last page, it was time to board the flight.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
Whitney recently read “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed” to kids at the Saturday Hoops program, held weekly at Lincoln Recreation Center in Cincinnati. Teenagers and parents were listening to it, equally engaged. As were little kids. And then a little girl said Henry looked like her dad. It’s happened several times now.
“I mean, I can’t even,” Whitney says. “That alone was enough for me, because you just don’t realize – when I think back to my own childhood, the books that stood out to me are the books that had people who look like me in them.”
Whitney recalls Addy Walker, a fictional character from the American Girl series, and books about Black inventors that her mom would give to her and her sister.
“I don’t think I ever understood why, but when that little girl said, ‘Oh look, it’s Daddy!’ I thought, ‘Oh, this is why this is so necessary.’”
Whitney doesn’t like to do five or 10-year predictions because life has already taught her that you can’t predict what is going to happen.
“I couldn’t tell you this book was going to happen,” she says, “I’m always just amazed at the plan God has for my life because I think he just laughs at mine. I just know that I will be successful. I see success in my future, period. There’s no way I can fail. Because even when I fail, it’s not failure. I don’t see stopping. Stopping doesn’t happen over here.”
Whitney has always been positive by nature, something she attributes to both her mom and dad. She says those who constantly try to bring positive people back down to earth live from a place of fear.
“Being a realist and not having any hope can be detrimental,” she says. “If you don’t see freedom. You are a slave to your own mind. And I’m not that. And I will never be that. I know there’s no limit. It’s like infinity and beyond for me.”
That said, she differentiates being a realist from keeping it real. When speaking with younger generations, she sees that for some, it’s more difficult for them to cope with truths. So Whitney says she doesn’t sugarcoat. But she also doesn’t speak in absolutes.
“We live in such a time that anything can happen,” she says. “You can go viral tomorrow for some silly TikTok you did, and then somebody discovers, Oh, wait, there’s some substance to you because they were on your page just looking at the silly little thing you did. We live in such a world where opportunities come at the blink of an eye.”
Whitney also credits the divine.
“There’s no way that I sat next to Lucy, we talked about wood, she introduced me to her husband who is a woodworker, who writes freaking books, you know what I’m saying?” she says. “I take a class and then all of a sudden he says I should write a book. Oh, you think you can draw a book? There is no realism in that – there is no reality in that. That is some hocus pocus shit. That is, literally, Jesus. There is no other way. I was not thinking about trying to write a book. I didn’t plan this. And I don’t take it for granted that there are people who have stories they want to tell and who are really trying to figure out how to do it.”
Fear, doubt and limiting thoughts, Whitney says, are so often what gets folks stuck.
“I just want people to not be afraid to try new things,” she says. “I think that’s what Henry Boyd did, out of necessity, and I think that’s what I did with my life, too. I figured out a job because I needed the money. I knew I wanted to be a journalist by any means necessary and I figured it out. You can’t be afraid to figure it out. That’s my lesson: Don’t be afraid to figure it out.”
Whitney Miller, news anchor, and author/illustrator of “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed,” grew up in Houston, Texas, with her mom, dad and younger sister. Her dad was a “computer doctor” who owned his own business, Millertech, and serviced computers for large companies. Her mom worked in insurance and financial services.
“I just remember her smelling really good, coming home from work and going to work,” Whitney says.
Whitney laughs, remembering for years telling everyone about how tight-knit her family was, like the family from “Leave It to Beaver.” And for years, they were. Her grandma, a nurse, lived with them for quite some time and took them to a nondenominational church, Christian Tabernacle, every Wednesday and Sunday.
“I feel like that church was very formative of who I am, who I turned out to be,” Whitney says. “I felt like it was a very non-judgmental-type of church. It was very relaxed. I was always there and always involved.”
Whitney was involved in choir, church plays, was a youth volunteer at church and attended a Christian school during her elementary years.
As a child, Whitney was encouraged by her mom in craft and play; she made sure to keep her girls busy. Every summer her mom would sign Whitney and her sister up for arts and crafts classes, and Whitney almost always chose an acting or drawing class.
“One summer my mom was like, ‘Y’all are not going to be bored this summer,’” Whitney says. “So we go to Hobby Lobby and she bought us this book that had 365 crafts to try, a huge book, and she was like, ‘Figure out what crafts you want to try, I’m going to buy all the materials and I don’t want to ever hear the word bored this whole summer long.’ So for two days we tried as many crafts as we could and then we stopped,” Whitney laughs. “But we always had this book that we could come back to and she was always giving us stuff that we could touch and try and do; I think that’s why I’ve always been curious to try different things.”
Whitney switched from Christian school to public in middle school, and remained active in after-school activities. She enrolled in Leadership Officer Training Corps (LOTC, similar to ROTC). Whitney’s mom had been in the Army and the elective had a description for orienteering. Whitney loved the idea of a treasure hunt – using a map and compass to figure things out on her own. Turns out, the course didn’t actually do orienteering at all but the elective did teach her a lot about leadership. So she stuck with it, continuing with ROTC through high school.
The switch from Christian to public school was, in many ways, relatively easy, Whitney says, in part because her parents instilled the importance of self-esteem in both their daughters. In high school, Whitney’s parents divorced, something she didn’t necessarily see coming as a child. Although the divorce didn’t faze her much as a teenager, it was something she says she eventually faced later on, in college.
On a Hustle, Straight Through Grad School
When Whitney was 16 years old, she got her first job, outside of babysitting, at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
“My mom used to call me the ‘snacker lady’ because they used to have these sandwiches called snackers,” Whitney says. “I got hired because this woman was like, ‘I like your smile – I want to hire you. And then she changed the billboard sign outside of KFC to ‘Hiring Smiles.’ It’s a little strange now to think about it,” she adds, laughing.
“I was a clown once. I was a clown,” Whitney says. “But for no reason at all I just felt like I needed the money. I don’t know what I was buying, but I needed money. Someone said, ‘You just have to dress up like this clown and go to kids’ parties.’ So, I dressed up like a clown and I went to one party. I don’t know how much money I got, maybe $50 or something like that, and I never did that shit again,” Whitney laughs.
“I never did that shit again. These little children – they loved it! But never again! I don’t even know how I got there. Why did my mom let me do that? I was on a hustle. My friends used to say, ‘Oh, you’re a true Jamaican.’ Because I used to have all kinds of jobs.”
It’s a stereotype she says she didn’t mind leaning into because she loved the feeling of being responsible for herself. “I had a lot of jobs. Especially in college – I had multiple jobs when I was going to school. I just liked to work.”
Whitney didn’t grow up wanting to be an author or news anchor. In high school she loved the TV show “CSI”; after learning about DNA in her biology class, she was sure she would be a forensic scientist.
“And then I would tell my friends I also wanted to be the female P. Diddy because I wanted to be a singer but I knew that singers don’t get as much money as the person who owns the record label so I decided I would own a record label and make my own music,” she says. “Obviously, I didn’t do any of that.”
What she did do was get a free ride to The Ohio State University (OSU) thanks to good grades and scholarships. When she got there she was asked what she wanted to major in – she had no clue.
“I hadn’t figured that part out,” she says. “A lot of people I was there with were doing communications and I thought, I like to talk.”
As a communications major she found that only a small number of students could join the journalism program. This inspired her and she got in.
“I was like, OK. I’m going to be a journalist,” she says. “And the minute I figured that out I was on it.”
Whitney interned at all four major news stations in Columbus while an OSU undergrad.
“You were literally not allowed to do that,” she says. “But I would go to my counselors and I would say, ‘You got to figure out a way I can do this one and that one – I want to do all of them. And I did that.”
Whitney shot her résumé tape on campus. It included a video of her and her friends chasing winter storms.
“And when President Obama became president I stood outside and said, ‘This is a historic day.’ The video of me doing that is hilarious because I look a mess,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I was so hungry to be a journalist. I just remember really, really wanting to do it by any means necessary. I later found out that tape was trash because nobody hired me from it.”
After Whitney graduated from OSU she moved to Cleveland, thinking her tape and Ohio connections would help her get a job in journalism. But they did not. So in 2010, she enrolled in a Master of Arts program in broadcast journalism at DePaul University in Chicago.
“And that’s when I got a way better tape – and a way better understanding of broadcasting,” she says. “At Ohio State I was learning print journalism. I had all the journalistic ethics but I did not have the foundation for television in terms of delivery and on-camera presence. I was just winging it.”
Whitney loved DePaul’s hands-on broadcast journalism program. There she took classes on how to put a story together and she took an entire class dedicated to creating a tape she could use to look for future jobs.
Angels Filling in the Gap
Whitney graduated with an M.A. in broadcast journalism from DePaul in 2012. At the time, broadcast journalists simply had to go wherever they could to get a job. So she sent her tape everywhere.
“My professor told me, ‘You just need to show up in these cities and put yourself in front of the news director so they know who they’re talking to and who they’re dealing with,’” Whitney says. “For example, I would call a station in Peoria, Illinois, and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in town visiting family.’ I had no money either. It was Jesus and friends who would send me $50 to get back to Chicago. I would literally just drive everywhere. I’d go in to these stations and they’d look at my tape and say, ‘Thank you for stopping by’ and I would just leave and nothing would come from it. At all. But I wouldn’t give up. I just kept doing it.”
Toledo was the last city Whitney tried this in and although that news director didn’t offer her a job, he did critique her tape.
“He was like, ‘You should move this here, that here, get rid of this,’ and when I got back to Chicago, I fixed my tape and I literally started sending it out again. I got an email immediately because of those changes from a news director in Anchorage Alaska.
After a Skype interview Whitney was offered a job.
“I called my mom and I was like, ‘I’m moving to Alaska,’” Whitney says. “And she was like, ‘Um, what?’ You could tell that she did not really want me to go but I think she knew there was no stopping me. She was happy for me. She was happy that I was finally getting my dream job because I was living on my uncle’s couch at that point, having quit my job at a bank to search for a reporter gig. I didn’t have anything. I sold my car, packed up all my stuff and flew to Anchorage.”
Whitney says she was more excited than nervous.
“When you’ve been searching for a job for a long time, you don’t care,” she says. “You just go and get started.”
Whitney recently watched her old tapes from her time in Anchorage.
“I was terrible then too,” she says, laughing. “Oh, girl, you could just see how green I was and how I think I’m doing what all news people do. I can see that in my face. I was searching for my voice, my identity as a journalist. But now I’m just me. Before I was definitely trying to be someone else.”
Whitney worked in Alaska for two years. While she says she had a good time and made some great connections, she did find it isolating at times, only visiting home once while she lived there.
“And they didn’t have a Chipotle,” she adds, laughing. “They didn’t have a Chipotle! What? I got out of there. When my contract was over I was done.”
And then Whitney moved back to Houston.
“I thought I would get a job immediately because I was so good now!” she says. “I thought I was so good at being a journalist and I did not understand that the Houston market was too large and they would never hire someone on-air with only two years of experience.”
At this point, Whitney was living with her mom in a small apartment in Houston.
“She was getting on my nerves and I was getting on her nerves,” Whitney says. “And I remember I went to Chick-Fil-A, and this is like a month in, and I give them my credit card and they’re like, ‘Um, you don’t have enough money to get this sandwich.’ But they gave it to me anyway because, you know, Chick-Fil-A is like Jesus, they gave me the sandwich and I sat in the car and I just cried and cried and cried. I just wanted a journalism job. It was there I remembered that same person who used to drive to Toledo, who used to drive to all those places. I told myself ‘I just gotta do what I gotta do.’ So I went and got a job at a call center.”
The call center was terrible, Whitney says. She was in training for two weeks. She remembers seeing roaches in the bathroom.
“I would cry on the way to the training class because I was like, This is not my career! I would ask God ‘why do I have to come here?’” she says.
Around this time she walked into a Walgreens. A friend who used to work there encouraged Whitney to talk to the manager. So she did. She told the manager that she no longer wanted to work at the call center and she needed a job. He agreed to an interview and she showed him her news tapes from Alaska.
“And he was like, ‘No. You need to be on the news. You can’t work here.’ I said, ‘No, I literally can’t buy a chicken sandwich,’ Whitney says. ‘I need to work. Please let me work here.’ He doubled down and said, ‘No. You really can’t work here. You need to be on TV and I don’t want you to give that up.’ And I was like, ‘I will literally never give up trying to be on TV. I just need money to live.’”
The manager finally relented. Whitney applied to be an associate but he gave her an assistant manager position.
“I worked there and he would check in with me often, he’d say ‘What’s going on with you? As soon as you get a job with one of these TV stations, you can just go. You can quit,’” Whitney says.
“It has been that way my whole life. I just like to call them angels. These people who have dropped in to stand in whatever gap that occurs in my life. I know I am completely blessed and I don’t take it for granted. I just know.”
Editor’s note: “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed” by Whitney LB Miller is the true story of an incredible 19th-century furniture maker who fought for his freedom, invented a renowned (and patented) bed and helped many enslaved people escape to freedom. For the last 25 years I have walked the same streets as Boyd and thought a lot about his neighborhood and his life.
Almost every morning I take a long walk – usually four or five miles – into a different district of Covington, Newport or Cincinnati. I especially love to go down the brick alleys that have been unchanged for 200 years (and are in better shape than the asphalt main roads).
But the most interesting days are when I visit Henry Boyd’s neighborhood, which is almost unrecognizable from when he lived there in the early 19th century. Though I am always looking for clues from his time.
Boyd lived on the east side of downtown Cincinnati. And starting about 1834 his address was on New Street. New Street definitely lives up to its name, even today. Everything on it is new. There are no houses or period buildings. It’s all just parking garages that service the big downtown firms, such as Procter & Gamble. The company’s world headquarters is just a couple blocks south.
When I walk down New Street, I look for any landmark that Henry Boyd would recognize. There are a couple. First is St. Francis Xavier Church. Established in 1826, this church stands on Sycamore Street and looks down New Street. When Boyd left his house for work, this was likely the largest structure in his neighborhood.
The building would have looked different then. The current St. Francis is a huge masonry structure. The original one was a frame structure that was moved to this location on wheels.
When Boyd went to work, he likely walked north up either Sycamore or Broadway streets to his factory at 8th and Broadway. This intersection is one of my favorites in town. After reading all Suzanne Ellison’s research on Boyd’s business it’s unclear exactly where his factory and other buildings were located, as it seems they were on both sides of Broadway. On one side of Broadway is my favorite building in the city, the Cincinnati Times Star Building. It’s an Art Deco masterpiece now used as a government building.
Across the street are a couple factory buildings that have been converted into trendy office buildings. One is from the early 20th century. The other is earlier, perhaps much earlier. Unlike New Street, this area has some very old buildings that Boyd might recognize if he were alive today. A stretch of buildings on Broadway look almost untouched from the early 19th century (you can tell by the lintels).
As I walk up and down these streets I always wonder if there was any business here he would have visited. And that always takes my mind to Arnold’s Bar & Grill. It’s at 210 8th Street East. It has been in operation since 1861. The buildings that make up Arnold’s date back to the 1830s and were a feed store and barbershop (and whorehouse).
Boyd most certainly would have walked by Arnold’s. It was only a block or so from his factory. But would he have been allowed in at the time? Unlikely. (Today Arnold’s is an inclusive gathering spot for people of all stripes and colors. We’ve had many beers there.)
Most of Boyd’s neighborhood has been demolished to make way for an interstate, a casino and far too many surface parking lots that are virtually unused.
But I do take heart at times as I walk back to Covington and tread over Cincinnati’s public landing on the Ohio River. This area on the riverfront looks barren at times, but it has been the heart of the city’s riverfront since at least 1825. Boyd was here looking for work when he arrived as a free man in the city. And almost every day something still happens at the public landing. A steamboat arrives and disgorges passengers. A historic ship berths there for tours. The police launch a search for someone’s body. It’s an almost unchanged piece of flat land from the 19th century, sloping gently down into the Ohio River.
This is where Boyd began his life as a free man. And this is where I can close my eyes and really look for him.
Last weekend, Whitney LB Miller, author of “Henry Boyd’s Freedom Bed,” was invited to read her new book at a Saturday morning children’s event. We suggested she film it but – reporting star that she is (she’s currently on the air with Cincinnati’s WCPO television station) – Whitney got a much better story.
After he was done reading, Bouna talked with Whitney about his reactions to “Henry Boyd:” “I like it ’cause he was a person that wanted to have freedom for other people to have rights as well…he wanted to make stuff for other people so they can have a good life…He wants to help people that are people that are slaves and take them out of slavery….”
Now I’m not a very emotional person, but when I saw video of kids reading and reacting to Whitney’s book, well, I teared up. (Anyone who doesn’t think representation matters is likely already well represented.) Visit her Instagram to see more; the link is to the one that tugged my heartstring the most (so far).
It’s a good story for kids of all ages – the first book dedicated entirely to the deeds of an incredible former enslaved person, who became one of Cincinnati’s most important 19th-century furniture makers. Whitney (who also illustrated the book!) wrote it to inspire a new generation of woodworkers, and show how creativity and hard work can lead to a good and important life.