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Four Hundred Souls
Cover of Four Hundred Souls
Four Hundred Souls
A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
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A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present—edited by...
A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present—edited by...
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  • A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present—edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire.
    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, each of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span. 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.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover Chapter 1

    1619–1624

    Arrival

    Nikole Hannah-Jones

    Four hundred years ago, in 1620, a cargo ship lowered its anchor on the eastern shore of North America. It had spent sixty-six grueling days on the perilous Atlantic Ocean, and its 102 passengers fell into praise as they spotted land for the first time in more than two months.

    These Puritans had fled England in search of religious freedom. We know all their names, names such as James Chilton, Frances Cook, and Mary Brewster. Their descendants proudly trace their lineage back to the group that established self-governance in the “New World” (that is, among the white population—Indigenous people were already governing themselves).

    They arrived on the Mayflower, a vessel that has been called “one of the most important ships in American history.” Every fall, regaled by stories of the courageous Pilgrims, elementary school children whose skin is peach, tan, and chestnut fashion black captain hats from paper to dress up like the passengers on the Mayflower. Our country has wrapped a national holiday around the Pilgrims’ story, ensuring the Mayflower’s mythical place in the American narrative.

    But a year before the Mayflower, in 1619, another ship dropped anchor on the eastern shore of North America. Its name was the White Lion, and it, too, would become one of the most important ships in American history. And yet there is no ship manifest inscribed with the names of its passengers and no descendants’ society. These people’s arrival was deemed so insignificant, their humanity so inconsequential, that we do not know even how many of those packed into the White Lion’s hull came ashore, just that “some 20 and odd Negroes” disembarked and joined the British colonists in Virginia. But in his sweeping history Before the Mayflower, first published in 1962, scholar Lerone Bennett, Jr., said of the White Lion, “No one sensed how extraordinary she really was . . . ​[but] few ships, before or since, have unloaded a more momentous cargo.”

    This “cargo,” this group of twenty to thirty Angolans, sold from the deck of the White Lion by criminal English marauders in exchange for food and supplies, was also foundational to the American story. But while every American child learns about the Mayflower, virtually no American child learns about the White Lion.

    And yet the story of the White Lion is classically American. It is a harrowing tale—one filled with all the things that this country would rather not remember, a taint on a nation that believes above all else in its exceptionality.

    The Adams and Eves of Black America did not arrive here in search of freedom or a better life. They had been captured and stolen, forced onto a ship, shackled, writhing in filth as they suffered and starved. Some 40 percent of the Angolans who boarded that ghastly vessel did not make it across the Middle Passage. They embarked not as people but as property, sold to white colonists who just were beginning to birth democracy for themselves, commencing a four-hundred-year struggle between the two opposing ideas foundational to America.

    And so the White Lion has been relegated to what Bennett called the “back alley of American history.” There are no annual classroom commemorations of that moment in August 1619. No children dress up as its occupants or perform classroom skits. No holiday honors it. The White Lion and the people on that ship have been expunged from our collective memory. This omission is intentional: when we are creating a shared history, what...

About the Author-

  • Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News correspondent. He is the author of many books including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and three #1 New York Times bestsellers, How to Be an Antiracist; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored with Jason Reynolds; and Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. In 2020, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
    Keisha N. Blain is an award-winning historian, professor, and writer. She is currently an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, the president of the African American Intellectual History Society, and an editor for The Washington Post's "Made by History" section. Her writing has appeared in popular outlets such as The Atlantic, The Guardian, Politico, and Time. She is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America.

Reviews-

  • AudioFile Magazine An outstanding cast brings these essays and poems vividly to life. Of the many incandescent narrators, JD Jackson ("Upon Arrival"), Kevin R. Free ("Cotton"), January LaVoy ("Sally Hemmings"), and Robin Miles ("Maroons and Marronage") are masterful. But at least two dozen more could be mentioned. Ninety entries, including 10 poems, encapsulate the African-American experience from 1619 to 2019. The authors tell stories both little and well known that together give the listener a symphony of voices that bring the complex, often horrific, history of Black people in the U.S. into relief. Many of the accounts depict incredible sacrifice and heroism, and others supply context. All are enhanced by the remarkable narrators. The intense rhythms of the poetry enrich this fine chorus of voices. A.D.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from May 1, 2021

    This is an outstanding collection of essays on being Black in the U.S. from 1619 to 2019. The dozens of contributors, including Donna Brazile, Alicia Garza, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Kiese Laymon, and Wesley Lowery, each reflect on a single five-year period of history. The essays consider the social and political effects of Black history on contemporary U.S. society, as well as the legacy of racism that treats people of color, Black people especially, as second-class citizens. The audiobook does not include the book's supporting material, like endnotes or table of contents, but listeners should be able to easily track down sources if they wish to follow up on historic events. Those looking for a more scholarly treatment of the history of racism in the United States should look to Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning. Most essays are read by their author. VERDICT Essential for library collections.--Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Four Hundred Souls
Four Hundred Souls
A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
Ibram X. Kendi
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A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
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