"It's strange that whites fear that anything addressed to blacks is an automatic rejection and condemnation of them. That is not necessarily so... whites do not want to acknowledge the fact that if they want to know blacks they will have to immerse themselves in what blacks have to say, and that there is no white Dante who can take them gently by their... hands and lead them on a guided tour of blackness and keep them from getting a little singed by the fires." ~ Julius Lester, in a letter, 1970 (Children's Literature Review, Vol. 41)

Julius Lester's words were written during a unique moment in American history in which the assassinations of Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were still fresh, open wounds in the public memory's mind, particularly within the collective conscious of black America. Lester's publications, in turn, frequently trace African American sentiments throughout U.S. history. At the time he scribed these words, blacks from coast to coast felt themselves to be "singed by the fires" of violence, discrimination and injustice. Lester's literary works aim to combat racial denigration, to uplift blacks' sense of self worth and to reveal the uncanny resilience of a historically down-trodden people. 

Following the successful publication of To Be A Slave (1968), a collection of reconstructed slave narratives from the American South, Julius Lester's Black Folktales (1969) came into print. Black Folktales comprises 12 short stories inspired by  folktales from both the slave era and the coastal regions of West Africa. With strong messages of black power, revelatory racial tensions and callings to mystical African lands, Black Folktales reveals a proud yet injured and at times seething voice that likely bespoke the ambivalent sentiments of a black American populace subjugated by society, by law and systematic racism.

Lester has enjoyed a long career as a children's author for more than forty years. His stories and scholarship have made him an invaluable figurehead in the world of multicultural literature for youth. Students and academics alike have benefited from his professorship.

Image Credit: Open Source