ARC Review: Four Hundred Souls – A Community History of African America 1619-2019 Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Curated by Ibram X. Kendi, author of the number one bestseller How To Be an Antiracist, and fellow historian Keisha N. Blain, Four Hundred Souls begins with the arrival of twenty enslaved Ndongo people on the shores of the British colony in mainland America in 1619, the year before the arrival of the Mayflower.

In eighty chronological chapters, the book charts the tragic and triumphant four-hundred-year history of Black American experience in a choral work of exceptional power and beauty.

Contributors include some of the best-known scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists of contemporary America who together bring to vivid life countless new facets to the drama of slavery and resistance, segregation and survival, migration and self-discovery, cultural oppression and world-changing artistic, literary and musical creativity. In these pages are dozens of extraordinary lives and personalities, rescued from the archives and restored to their rightful place in America’s narrative, as well as the ghosts of millions more.

Four Hundred Souls is an essential work of story-telling and reclamation that redefines America and changes our notion of how history is written. 

I would have definitely added this book to my tbr anyway because it has Dr. Kendi’s name attached to it, but it was the whole concept of a collection of Black voices coming together to create a community history that captured my attention immediately and I was so happy when I received the ARC.

In a way, this is like a follow up or companion to the 1619 project because that is the year the history in this book starts, with the tale of the first 20 or so Black people who were brought to the shores of this land, with the author wondering what must they have been feeling about their situation as well as their new home. From there, each writer focuses on a five year period, talking about something that they found significant about that particular time period in history – whether it be a movement or rebellion that was crushed and erased from our collective memory, or a prominent Black voice of the time, or many other rebels and pioneers who paved the way for their future freedoms even if they have been forgotten by history.

The book or project (as it should rightfully be called) is epic and ambitious, but the execution is perfect. Through poems and essays and profiles and testimonies, these 90 Black intellectuals from various fields come together to create such a wonderful volume of history that speaks to the feeling of community. The writing will make you angry and hopeful and emotional, and I ended up crying a few times. Sometimes, it also leaves you feeling sad because there’s so much that is lost to history, and how much we don’t know about the African American ancestors who suffered horribly for decades and centuries. This book is in a way a tribute to them, making us aware of how they fought for the right to be treated equally, and also motivate us to continue the fight till true equality is achieved.

The book ends with a final essay by Alicia Garza about the Black Lives Matter movement and it felt like a fitting conclusion – a lot of strides have been made on the path to achieve the true ideals enshrined in the constitution but a lot is left to do, as all the BLM protests in 2020 and the recent insurrection on the capitol have shown. This community history is an inspiration and I hope it encourages many more of us to fight for a fair and just world.

5 star

PS: Thank you to One World Publications and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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