Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 - book cover
  • Publisher : One World; 1st Edition
  • Published : 02 Feb 2021
  • Pages : 528
  • ISBN-10 : 0593134044
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593134047
  • Language : English

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A chorus of extraordinary voices tells the epic story of 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.

FINALIST FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post, BookPage, BookRiot • "A vital addition to [the] curriculum on race in America . . . a gateway to the solo works of all the voices in Kendi and Blain's impressive choir."-The Washington Post
"From journalist Hannah P. Jones on Jamestown's first slaves to historian Annette Gordon-Reed's portrait of Sally Hemings to the seductive cadences of poets Jericho Brown and Patricia Smith, Four Hundred Souls weaves a tapestry of unspeakable suffering and unexpected transcendence."-O: The Oprah Magazine

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.

Editorial Reviews

"The authors, each in their individual voice, raise a Black chorus, demystify racial assumptions, connect the dots of law and jurisprudence, lay the unspoken cultural truths bare, look at the engineering of the foundational aspects of institutional racism and show an America ashamed of its history. . . . Feel the endurance and resilience of how Blacks resisted, revolted, organized, demanded, protested and rebelled. Feel the joy in the absurdity of remaining American in the face of such obstacles."-George McCalman,  San Francisco Chronicle

"This collection teaches us that nothing about the latest crisis is new-that for four hundred years, Americans have whistled a ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy' tune of national self-congratulation while reliving repeating cycles of racial violence and hypocrisy. . . . This project is a vital addition to that curriculum on race in America and should serve as a gateway to the solo works of all the voices in Kendi and Blain's impressive choir."-The Washington Post

"Two leading scholars of Black culture gather writers from across genres in this provocative, stirring anthology on the traumas and triumphs of African Americans across four centuries. From journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones on Jamestown's first slaves to historian Annette Gordon-Reed's portrait of Sally Hemings to the seductive cadences of poets Jericho Brown and Patricia Smith, Four Hundred Souls weaves a tapestry of unspeakable suffering and unexpected transcendence."-O: The Oprah Magazine, "20 of the Best Books of February 2021 to Fall in Love With"

"Edited by two of the brightest minds in all of literature and historical studies today, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Keisha N. Blain, the massive tome takes a community approach to telling the stories of Black history for the past four hundred years. . . . Absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the incredible struggles and immense achievements of African America over the past four centuries."-Shondaland

"Four Hundred Souls consists of eighty chronological chapters that bring to life the numerous and previously overlooked facets of slavery, segregation, resistance and survival. In these pages, dozens of extraordinary lives and personalities resurface from archives and are restored to their rightful place in the narrative of American history."-The Root

"An impeccable, epic, essential vision of American history as a whole and a testament to the resilience of Black people."-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With a diverse range of up-and-coming scholars, activists, and writers exploring topics both familiar and obscure, this energetic collection stands apart ...

Readers Top Reviews

Kate M.Betty Boop
I appreciate the amazing idea of having so many voices, and such diversity write...the information is clearing away my own ignorance regarding many areas of how our system evolved into the subliminal systemic racist, and overt cruelty, that has come from it.
daphneM C
Less scholarly than I had hoped, given Kendi's "Stamped from the Beginning." Would also help to add a few pages and list a bibliography. Nice edition with easy to read font. Easy to read in general.
Odessa Pickett
This is one of the best history books I've read in a long time. I like that it discusses past events of African American history and makes it relevant to today's issues facing African Americans. It is written in a formal style that all high school and college students can read with ease. It is an all-in-one resource book on the journey of African Americans that should be in everyone's home, and on every teacher's desk. It addresses issues from slavery through today's politics and policies on African American issues.
I bought this book, hoping that it would contain a few interesting stories, that would help give more background and context to what my children were learning during Black History Month. It turned out to be much more educational, moving, painful, and inspiring than I thought. The book describes itself as “A Community History,” and that is really the best description I could come up with. The stories that are told by dozens of different authors, don't attempt to tell a cohesive overall narrative, or even necessarily stick to a general theme; but instead are simply accounts of lives lived over the past 400 years. You will find some amazing and historically important contributions to America, and you will find some painful and sad stories that highlight the injustices of our past. The poetry included throughout the book adds some beauty and sometimes hope, in the face of some hardships that are almost impossible for us modern Americans to imagine. I feel that this kind of sharing of personal accounts, really adds a human element to the history. It is one thing to hear about how African Americans were treated inhumanely, but it is another thing to hear about a SPECIFIC person, and what their life was like. It helps to remind us that these were individual people, just like we are, that also had hopes and dreams and fears; and it makes the hardships that they went through seem more vivid and real, to me at least. Telling stories like this, in some way also feels like it is honoring the traditions of some of the African cultures that were so devoted to passing on tradition and history by telling stories. I will cherish this book, and hope that my children will grow to appreciate it as much as I do. The Audiobook is narrated by many different voices, which I think is a nice touch for this kind of collection. 5/5
Richard P.
The stories in "Four Hundred Souls" begin to unfold in the year 1619, a year before the Mayflower when the White Lion disgorges "some 20-and-odd Negroes" onto the shores of Virginia. This would be the inaugurating of the African presence to what would become the United States and it serves as the starting point to this epic project co-edited by Ibram X. Kendi, acclaimed author of "How to Be An Antiracist," and Keisha N. Blain, author of "Set the World on Fire." What follows is truly epic, a one-volume history, abbreviated of course, celebrating the history of African Americans. 90 writers. Each writer takes on a five-year history of the four-hundred-year span. Each writer approaches their five-year-period differently ranging from poetry to historical essays to short stories to fiery polemics to social calls to action to personal testimonies and more. Each writer uses a different lens to tell stories both familiar and remarkably unfamiliar. We learn about historical icons and unsung heroes, ordinary people and collective movements. There are names you might expect to read that nary make an appearance, while other names will have you exploring and researching and digging deeper wondering how this is a person or a place or an event of which you've never heard. You will feel the passion of years of resistance and ache with the years of oppression and abuse and discrimination. You will vibrate with the hope of a community that is alive and relentless and vast in its expression of ideas and beliefs and humanity. As always seems to be true in a collective of essays, some are more likely to resonate than others yet there's truly no weak link here. There's also, I'd dare say, none that outshine the others. This is truly a collective, a collective masterpiece of historical literature. The voices who participate in this effort are known and unknown, brilliant and creative and astute and remarkable. They are the essential Black voices of now, academics and artists, historians and journalists and others. I found myself deeply moved by "Four Hundred Souls," but I also found myself called to action and called to greater understanding. I found myself informed yet called to seeking greater knowledge. I found myself convicted, convicted of ignorance and even willful blindness of truth and history and joy and sorrow. I did, indeed, find myself searching for more than what was contained within these pages, these essays often serving to challenge me to discover more truths and broader knowledge and to discover the undiscovered stories and voices of past and present. It's difficult to describe this feeling having completed "Four Hundred Souls," a literary journey that has ended yet in many ways has just begun. There are books that change your reality and change your perspective...

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter 1



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 we remember is just as revelatory as what we forget. If the Mayflower was the advent of American freedom, then the White Lion was the advent of American slavery. And so while arriving just a year apart, one ship and its people have been immortalized, the other completely erased.

W.E.B. Du Bois called such erasure the propaganda of history. "It is propaganda like this that has led men in the past to insist that history is ‘lies agreed upon'; and to point out the danger in such misinformation," he wrote in his influential treatise Black Reconstruction (1935). Du Bois argued that America had falsified the fact of its history "because the nation was ashamed." But he warned, "It is indeed extremely doubtful if any permanent benefit comes to the world through such action."

Because what is clear is that while we can erase the memory of the White Lion, we cannot erase its impact. Together these two ships, the White Lion and the Mayflower, bridging the three continents that made America, would constitute this nation's most quintessential and perplexing elements, underpinning the grave contradictions that we have failed to overcome.

These elemental contradictions led founder Thomas Jefferso...