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TO BE A SLAVE by Julius Lester


by Julius Lester ; illustrated by Tom Feelings

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1968
ISBN: 978-0-14-131001-5
Publisher: Dial

From the man who is usually "On the Other Side of the Tracks," a judicious selection of quotations from runaways and emancipated men revealing the texture of the slave experience.

This is not, like Meltzer's In Their Own Words, a history, but the book's structure does approximate chronological impressions: African capture and ocean voyage, the auction block, plantation life with its codes of behavior, responses to emancipation and--briefly--the letdown thereafter. Most of the quotations come from the (edited) records of 19th century abolitionist societies or the Federal Writers' Project interviews of the 1930's so there are few statements from the ones who got away (e.g. Douglass); Lester does excerpt from Josiah Henson and others who wrote autobiographies but concentrates on equally eloquent unknowns, often in their own dialects (depending on the interviewer). The passages are short, some no more than a sentence ("Now that slavery is over, I don't want to be in nary 'nother slavery, and if nary 'nother come up, I wouldn't stay here"), supplementing the editor's pointed commentary. Several themes emerge: the fading of African memories, antagonism between house and field, a subculture of two-faced intelligence, attempts at organized rebellion, emotional release in music.

Possibly the concision and flavor will increase the book's attractiveness to those who need it most, and the list of sources is valuable for further study.