It was a sleepy Saturday morning in downtown St. Paul as Les Lester stood alone before a cameraman at the Warren E. Burger courthouse. With a microphone in hand, Lester described his worst fear for the upcoming school year.
When a little black girl and a little white girl begin school this fall, they’ll get to see pictures of white, Renaissance-era princesses in their books, Lester says. Next the little girls may see white, ancient Egyptian princess too … even though ancient Egypt was a black nation.
“That little black girl’s probably going to grow up with some self-esteem issues, and that little while girl’s going to wonder what black people have ever accomplished, which will begin to brew that bigotry.”
Lester is a former communications rep for the NAACP and author of the historical fiction novel The Awakening of Khufu. His interest in the pharaohs reaches back his preteen years, when he’d pour over the encyclopedias in his grandparents’ house looking for dramatic tales of empire building and political intrigue in early black civilizations.
Back then, all the schools taught about black people were the obligatory chapters on slavery, Jim Crow and the long struggle to wash away the residues of both, Lester says. All he ever wanted was acknowledgement of bona fide African history before the rise of colonialism.
This summer Spike TV broadcast a highly-anticipated Tut mini-series, starring Ben Kingsley and Avan Jogia and a host of other white actors in Egyptian roles. Incensed by the trailer, Lester called out Spike TV, which is owned by Viacom, which also oversees Paramount Pictures – creator of 1956 classic The Ten Commandants. Like the Tut miniseries, its cast was a laundry list of European actors.
Lester petitioned the Federal Communications Commission. He hounded the U.S. Department of Education to step in and do something about the rampant problem of racial misrepresentation of historical films.
So far, this lone crusader has gotten radio silence from the Goliaths in Hollywood and the government. Outside the Burger courthouse in St. Paul, he pressed on like a street preacher while a handful of friends crowded around him in support.
He mobilized the thousands of bodies like Black Lives Matter has, but Lester believes the cause for educational equity is just as vital.
“My thing is, you gotta connect the dots, and ask why do police think like they think? What creates the environment for black kids to wear their pants off their rear end?” Lester says. “Sometimes when people protest, it’s just one person, but they really believe in an idea, and if it’s something this all-encompassing, people should care.”