“Four Hundred Souls” Review

The book cover is mostly yellow or orange with a line of black down the middle in the shapes of black stick figures representing people walking in a line from top to bottom of the cover. The title and editors are over the top of the cover in white. Full Title: “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019”
Edited by Ibram X. Kendi with Keisha N. Blain
Published by One World, February 2021
528 Pages
Completed June 20, 2023

“The story begins in 1619—a year before the Mayflower—when the White Lion disgorges “some 20-and-odd Negroes” onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.”

“Four Hundred Souls is a unique one-volume “community” history of African Americans. The editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, have assembled ninety brilliant writers, eighty of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span with ten lyrical interludes from poets. The writers explore their periods through a variety of techniques: historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While themes of resistance and struggle, of hope and reinvention, course through the book, this collection of diverse pieces from ninety different minds, reflecting ninety different perspectives, fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith—instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.”

“This is a history that illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future, written by the most vital and essential voices of our present.”

This is definitely a book everyone should read but obviously especially white people. There’s 80 essays written by 80 writers covering the span of 400 years broken up in 5 year spans. While each story is very surface level they all explain a lot about what was going on at the time. Everything is important to know and think about. Things haven’t actually changed as much as some would like to believe. The last story covers the span between 2014 and 2019 – COVID is mentioned briefly in the conclusion and acknowledgments. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows what comes next. The epidemic only highlighted what was already true about this country and how white people respond to black people.