Reviews for Four Hundred Souls

by edited Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Library Journal
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Noting that most histories of Black America are written by men, award-winning editors Kendi (Ctr. for Antiracist Research Boston Univ.; Stamped from the Beginning) and Blain (history, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Set the World on Fire) compile a community history of Black America, with contributions from a range of writers, poets, activists, and more. The gem of this work is how it brings lesser-known historical events to the forefront. In examining the origins of the White Lion, the slave ship that brought the first Africans to Virginia in 1619, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones mentions that what we remember is just as important as what we forget. Collective memory is a recurring theme, as evidenced by noteworthy contributions from journalist Wesley Lowery on why we remember so little about the Stono Rebellion; Reverend William J. Barber II on the legacy of David George, who created the first Black Baptist church in the United States; and author Martha S. Jones on the significance of Mumbet, an enslaved woman who sued for her freedom. Poems interspersed between sections succeed in balancing historical and personal context. Blain concludes by thoughtfully questioning whether we really are our ancestors' wildest dreams. VERDICT With YA crossover appeal, this is an essential collection proving that African American history is American history, and that the two cannot be studied separately.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal


Publishers Weekly
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Bestseller Kendi (How to Be an Antiracist) and historian Blain (Set the World on Fire) present 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. Highlights include journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, on the erasure from American history of the first slave ship to arrive on U.S. soil; University of Kentucky English professor DaMaris B. Hill’s lyrical reimagining of how tobacco was cultivated in Jamestown, Va.; and political commentator Heather C. McGhee on the desire to believe that Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 was a “class-based, multiracial uprising against slavery, landlessness, and servitude,” despite evidence of the plotters’ “anti-Native fervor,” Stanford University history professor Allyson Hobbs explores racial passing by fugitive slaves in antebellum America, while historian Peniel Joseph looks at the rise of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. 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. (Feb.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A compendium of essays and poems chronicling 400 years of Black American history. In order to tell the story of Black America, acclaimed scholar Kendi and award-winning historian Blain bring together 80 Black “historians, journalists, activists, philosophers, novelists, political analysts, lawyers, anthropologists, curators, theologians, sociologists, essayists, economists, educators, and cultural critics” and 10 poets. This engrossing collection is divided into 10 parts, each covering 40 years, and each part ends with a poem that captures the essence of the preceding essays. In the opening essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer-winning creator of The 1619 Project, examines the period from Aug. 20, 1619—the symbolic birthdate of African America when “twenty ‘Negroes’ stepped off the [slave] ship White Lion in Jamestown, Virginia”—to Aug. 19, 1624. The book ends with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza reflecting on the years between Aug. 20, 2014 and Aug. 20, 2019. The brief but powerful essays in between 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, but standouts include Raquel Willis’ piece on queer sexuality (1814-1819); Robert Jones Jr. writing about insurrectionist Denmark Vesey, with Kanye West as a throughline; Esther Armah on Black immigrants, and Barbara Smith on the Combahee River Collective, founded in 1974 by Black women who were “sick of being invisible.” Other notable contributors include Ijeoma Oluo, Annette Gordon-Reed, Donna Brazile, Imani Perry, Peniel Joseph, and Angela Y. Davis. An impeccable, epic, essential vision of American history as a whole and a testament to the resilience of Black people. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

African American history is a communal quilt, crisscrossed with the stitches of elders, youth, LGBTQ folk, mothers, fathers, revolutionaries, and poets. Editors National Book Award winner Kendi (Stamped, 2016; How to Be an Antiracist, 2019) and historian and writer Blain honor this multilayered heritage in a monumental work of collaborative history. Ninety Black writers each take on a five-year period from 1619–2019, and each 40-year section concludes with a poem. Thus we get Peniel Joseph on the Black Power movement, Angela Davis on the multigenerational disaster of mass incarceration, Alicia Garza on Black Lives Matter, and Isabelle Wilkerson on the Great Migration. Some essays address events and legislation, others cover cultural elements as diverse as spirituals and queer sexuality, and such icons as Sally Hemings, Jack Johnson, and Anita Hill. The poems enhance and elaborate on the historical narratives: for example, Ishmael Reed’s searing “For the Albany 3” mocks Thomas Jefferson’s egalitarian ideals by reminding us how he “worked them 24/7 without a fee / While he studied Plato’s philosophy.” Within a few short stanzas, Reed demonstrates how Caribbean slave uprisings exposed the hypocrisy of the American Revolution as he references the Central Park 5, police torture, and the Native American genocide. Like the poem, this seamless collection crackles with rage, beauty, bitter humor, and the indomitable will to survive.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A compendium of essays and poems chronicling 400 years of Black American history.In order to tell the story of Black America, acclaimed scholar Kendi and award-winning historian Blain bring together 80 Black historians, journalists, activists, philosophers, novelists, political analysts, lawyers, anthropologists, curators, theologians, sociologists, essayists, economists, educators, and cultural critics and 10 poets. This engrossing collection is divided into 10 parts, each covering 40 years, and each part ends with a poem that captures the essence of the preceding essays. In the opening essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer-winning creator of The 1619 Project, examines the period from Aug. 20, 1619the symbolic birthdate of African America when twenty Negroes stepped off the [slave] ship White Lion in Jamestown, Virginiato Aug. 19, 1624. The book ends with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza reflecting on the years between Aug. 20, 2014 and Aug. 20, 2019. The brief but powerful essays in between 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, but standouts include Raquel Willis piece on queer sexuality (1814-1819); Robert Jones Jr. writing about insurrectionist Denmark Vesey, with Kanye West as a throughline; Esther Armah on Black immigrants, and Barbara Smith on the Combahee River Collective, founded in 1974 by Black women who were sick of being invisible. Other notable contributors include Ijeoma Oluo, Annette Gordon-Reed, Donna Brazile, Imani Perry, Peniel Joseph, and Angela Y. Davis.An impeccable, epic, essential vision of American history as a whole and a testament to the resilience of Black people. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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