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.
“This engrossing collection is divided into ten parts, each covering forty years, and each part ends with a poem that captures the essence of the preceding essays. . . . The brief but powerful essays . . . feature lesser-known people, places, ideas, and events as well as fresh, closer looks at the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Harlem Renaissance,
Brown v. Board of Education, the Black Power movement, the war on drugs, Hurricane Katrina, voter suppression, and other staples of Black American history and experience. Poignant essays by Bernice L. McFadden on Zora Neale Hurston, Salamishah Tillet on Anita Hill, and Kiese Laymon (“Cotton 1804–1809”) deftly tie the personal to the historical. Every voice in this ‘cabinet of curiosities’ is stellar. . . . An impeccable, epic, essential vision of American history as a whole and a testament to the resilience of Black people.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An engrossing anthology of essays, biographical sketches, and poems by Black writers tracing the history of the African American experience from the arrival of the first slaves in 1619 to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement . . . With a diverse range of up-and-coming scholars, activists, and writers exploring topics both familiar and obscure,
this energetic collection stands apart from standard anthologies of African American history.”—Publishers Weekly
“African American history is a communal quilt, crisscrossed with the stitches of elders, youth, LGBTQ folk, mothers, fathers, revolutionaries, and poets. . . . [Kendi and Blain] honor this multilayered heritage in a monumental work of collaborative history. . . . This seamless collection crackles with rage, beauty, bitter humor, and the indomitable will to survive.”—Booklist (starred review)
About the Authors:
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.