Leslie Zukor runs the Freethought Book Project, which sends books about atheism to prisoners across the country.
Recently, she received a letter from Michael L., a prisoner from Peoria, Illinois.
She had sent him a book called American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll, about the Great Agnostic.
Michael wrote a very moving letting back to her. You can see his writing for yourself here, but the transcription is below:
Thank so much so much for the books you sent. Please note that they all arrived in good order and without unusual delay.
As a native Peorian, I was especially delighted to find the biography of Robert Ingersoll. In Peoria’s Glen Oak Park, at the bottom of a steep and circuitious road, is a secluded little court just off the park’s egress. In the center of this quiet plaza stands the monument to Ingersoll pictured in American Infidel. I recall many winters when the snows would close this road to motorized traffic and adventuresome sledders would try its serpentine slope. Those of us who didn’t wipe out on the road’s low embankment or fly off into the trees beyond would end our rides in the shadow of Ingersoll’s likeness.
All that time, I had no idea who Robert Ingersoll was, nor, I am certain, did any of my companions. Of course, he was not taught in school. This can probably be attributed more to the unfortunate fact that none of our colorful local history was taught, than that an icon of American Freethought in the area was one of Peoria’s dirty little secrets. (Although the placement of his memorial is in a spot so discreet, that to my knowledge, it has never attracted vandals. Shortly after I had outgrown sleds, its shadow was also an ideal location to pack a few one-hitters or make out with a companion while visiting the park.)
In the thirty or so years since skidding to a powdery halt at his feet, I have learned a little about Robert Ingersoll and even read a few of his lectures and essays. Now, with American Infidel, I can make a deeper connection with this great man and with my own heritage as a Peorian, an American, and a human being of liberated reason.
Again, my thanks go out to you and your sponsors for these good books. Keep up the important work.
Much joy to you and yours this holiday season.
If you’d like to contribute to the Freethought Books Project, you can do so here.