Four Hundred Souls

The Book of Four Hundred Souls : a community history of African America, 1619-2019 is a staggering achievement. Editors Ibram X. Kendi (How To Be An Antiracist) and Keisha N. Blain assembled a collective of 90 African American writers to tell the 400-year history of Blacks in America. Really, I’m just blown away by it.

The book opens in 1619—one year before the Mayflower—when “some 20 and odd Negroes” were landed in Virginia, and concludes in 2019 with Black Lives Matter. Sandwiched in-between are wonderfully diverse chapters centering around a person, a place, an idea or an event. So, chapters range from the American Constitution (which does not explicitly mention either slaves or slavery) to the Harlem Renaissance to the war on drugs. Each section of the book closes with a poem.

I’ve learned a lot more about people who were previously just names to me, men like Frederick Douglass or Booker T. Washington. And I’ve also encountered some seriously badass women, like journalists/public speakers Ida B. Wells and Maria Stewart.

However I found one glaring omission in Four Hundred Souls. Choosing which subjects to include—or exclude– must have been extraordinarily difficult but I am astonished, make that beyond astonished, that the election of the first Black president Barack Obama does not merit a chapter in this book. Seriously??

To conclude here’s an extract from one of the poems that really spoke to me:

Tom [Thomas Jefferson] called the rebels “Cannibals”

When it seems to me that

He was the one who was a

Consumer of men

Worked them 24/7 without a fee

While he studied Plato’s philosophy.

(From Remembering the Albany 3 by Ishmael Reed)

— Penny D.