Four hundred souls: A community history of African America, 1619-2019

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Reviews

Booklist Reviews 2021 February #1

*Starred Review* 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. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

LJ Reviews 2020 December

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

Copyright 2020 Library Journal.