Julius Lester

To Be A Slave, 1968

Excerpt, p. 76

There are two ways in which a man can be enslaved.

One is through force. He can be penned behind fences, guarded constantly, punished severely for breaking the slightest rule, and made to live in constant fear.

The second is to teach him to think that his own best interests will be served by doing what his master wishes him to do. He can be taught that he is inferior and that only through slavery will he eventually rise to the "level" of his master.

The southern slave owner used both.

The first was the way of the whip, the threat of the auction block, and murder. Its aim was to make the slave live in constant fear....

The second way was more subtle. Its aim was to brainwash the slave, to destroy his mind and replace it with the mind of the master. In that way the slave would enslave himself and there would be no need to police him. A slave should have no sense of himself that was separate from the self the master wanted him to have. Thus it was that no black had a name of his own. He was given the surname of his owner, no mater how many owners he might have during his life.

Selected Works

History
Folk Tales
The Last Tales of Uncle Remus. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Out of print)
The last volume in the retellings of the Uncle Remus tales.
When the Beginning Began, illustrated by Emily Lisker, 1999. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
Traditional retellings and original stories around the creation story in Genesis
Fiction
Long Journey Home, 1972 (Dial Books For Young Readers)
Short stories based on true stories from Black history.
This Strange New Feeling, 1982 (Scholastic Paperbacks)
Three love stories based on true stories from slavery.
Do Lord Remember Me, 1984
A novel inspired by my father's life
And All Our Wounds Forgiven, 1994.
A novel about the civil rights movement and suggested by the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Othello: A Novel, 1995 (Point)
A novelization of the Shakespeare play.
Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel, 2000. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A story about the young Moses growing up in ancient Egypt.
When Dad Killed Mom, 2001. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A novel about what happens to a brother and sister when their father murders their mother.
The Autobiography of God, 2004, (St. Martin's Press)
A novel that probes the question why evil can exist if God is omnisicient, omnipresent, and All-Good.
Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, 2005, (Hyperion Books)
A novel in dialogue about the largest slave auction in American history.
Time's Memory 2006 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A novel about an nyama (spirit) that comes to the United States on a slave ship.
Cupid: A Novel, (Harcourt, January, 2007)
A retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Poetry and Photography
Autobiography
Lovesong:Becoming A Jew, 1988 (Bullfinch Press)
Story of my spiritual odyssey to Judaism.
On Writing for Children and Other People, 2005 (Dial Books)
A literary memoir discussing the relationship between my life and my writing
Picture Book
John Henry. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
The first picture book collaboration with Jerry Pinkney
Shining, Illustrations by John Clapp, 2003 (Harcourt Books)
A fable about what a young girl learns from silence.
Non-Fiction
Let's Talk About Race. Illustrated by Karen Barbour 2005 (Harper Collins/Amistad)
A book in which I talk personally about race and how to think about it. Wonderful illustrations by Karen Barbour.