To Be A Slave by Julius Lester (Review by Becky)

Lester, Julius. 1968. To Be A Slave.

This book is a 1969 Newbery Honor Winner. And it's easy to see why. What should you expect from this one? Why should you read it? Well, Lester has woven together compelling primary sources into a book that is powerful and moving. The thing that impresses me most about the book is its richness. It presents first-hand accounts, primary sources. Accounts from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stories from slaves and ex-slaves. Stories from men and women. These stories don't need a lot of dressing up. They don't need to be sensationalized. In their very simplicity, they speak volumes.

To be a slave. To be owned by another person, as a car, house, or table is owned. To live as a piece of property that could be sold--a child sold from its mother, a wife from her husband. To be considered not human, but a "thing" that plowed the fields, cut the wood, cooked the food, nursed another's child; a "thing" whose sole function was determined by the one who owned you.
To be a slave. To know, despite the suffering and deprivation, that you were human, more human than he who said you were not human. To know joy, laughter, sorrow, and tears and yet to be considered only the equal of a table.
To be a slave was to be a human being under conditions in which humanity was denied. They were not slaves. They were people. Their condition was slavery.
They who were held as slaves looked upon themselves and the servitude in which they found themselves with the eyes and minds of human beings, conscious of everything that happened to them, conscious of all that went on around them. Yet slaves are often pictured as little more than dumb, brute animals, whose sole attributes were found in working, singing, and dancing. They were like children and slavery was actually a benefit to them--this was the view of those who were not slaves. Those who were slaves tell a different story.
Highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews