To be a Slave by Julius Lester

December 8, 2011
By Alexa Kapla BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
Alexa Kapla BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Summary of To be a Slave

The book To be a Slave by Julius Lester is a collection of letters written by ex-slaves that reveal the dark past of slavery. Lester states that he wanted to venture into the past of slavery when he asked his father about his ancestry, and could only find his ancestry linked to a slave auction. Lester was determined to open the door to enlighten us of what our past has looked like.

Ex-slaves have written letters explaining the pain of slavery. The degrading names, the crack of the whip, and the separation from their families are explained in great depth, revealing all the pain underneath. Out of all the abuse the slaves had experienced, the auction block probably was the cruelest. Seeing your family being ripped apart, and the feeling of being an item rather than a person, hurt the soul more than any crack of the whip. Nancy Williams had written an entry explaining how no one ever knew if they were going to be sold, and one day they would just sell your friend for no reason at all.

Although many letters were written anonymously, there are a few people we get multiple letters from; one of these ex-slaves is Henson. Henson was to move all his master’s slaves to Kentucky, which was thousands of miles from his plantation. Henson said even though he had a chance at freedom, traveling alone with all these other slaves, his master was too good and that he knew he would be caught again and brought back into slavery.

Slaves still felt like they were in slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation was made. Slaves explained it like being even worse than slavery. When they were freed, slaves had nothing, no money, no house, no food, and no job. Slaves often ended up going back to their old masters for work. Also, once the slaves were legally freed, many people had prejudices.

Julius Lester hated slavery, and felt that most modern Americans did not have a clue about what really went on behind the curtains of slavery. People had put their blinders on, believing that just because someone’s skin is a different color that they were different creatures.
Many believe that the south was the problem with slavery, and it was. These people were mostly from the south states, ranging from Texas to the east coast, but the north was not truly against slavery. The north did not agree with slavery, but the Union still felt that the blacks were in a lower class than them, opposing what Lester feels.

To be a Slave opens our eyes to what really went on behind the curtains of slavery. One thing that I have learned from reading this story is how we are prejudice. Even though slavery does not exist today, prejudices still live on between both blacks, whites, and all other nationalities. Stereotypes still determine our groups and preferred friend choice. This book really helps the reader understand that everyone is human; we are all just human, no one is better, but ignorance can cause people to be cruel.

The author's comments:
Very inspiring book. Opens the eyes of people oblivious to the true conditions of slavery, told straight from the mouths of the ones whom had experienced it.

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