In this historical masterpiece, the harrowing tale of African America's nearly four-hundred-year history is told through the voices of 90 different authors. Each voice chronicles around five years of history, offering unique individual insight and perspective to the communal tale of Black America.
Although no one knows the exact origin of African America, the timeline is thought to have begun in 1619 upon the arrival of "The White Lion:" an English ship known to have carried the first enslaved Africans to North America. In a history whose origins are rooted in tragedy, the many voices throughout the novel are able to shed light on both the hopes and hardships faced by African-Americans since the very beginnings of our nation.
Four Hundred Souls is especially unique because of this multitude of voices. Having the perspective of so many different authors allows for a community that has been deprived of individuality for so long to share individual stories that are necessary to be told. Despite the beautifully powerful community and culture that has been cultivated by African-Americans, the history and experiences of Black America must no longer only be seen as singular or simple.
The stories that have been blotted out of our textbooks-- erased from our collective memory -- must be told. And there are many of them.
Another aspect of this story that makes it especially extraordinary is its ability to parallel the past and the present. Each author explains the courses of history that have created what the United States is for African-Americans today... and we must remember. We must pay homage to these forebears, recognize the strides they have made, while also acknowledging the present condition of Black America-- how much further we have to go.
Although many institutions of the past have been eradicated, institutional racism remains.
Author David A. Love, in writing about England's "Royal African Company" explains the reality.
"The Royal African company may be long gone but its spirit remains through criminalizing and mass incarceration."
Even the legacy of the Dutch West India Company, a trading institution that became obsolete by the mid-1600s, remains. This company often practiced the granting of "half-freedom" to their African Slaves, which allowed the company to require the payment of taxes from these "citizens."
In her chapter "Unfree Labor," Nakia D. Parker reiterates these truths.
"Despite the limitations of this standing, Africans made the most of their circumstances and never stopped pursuing complete freedom. Africans in early America lived in a society that blurred the lines between freedom and unfreedom. A world of constrained possibilities. A world that could only provide only half freedom. Almost 400 years later Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and countless others serve as a stark and painful reminder that, for people of African descent, the United States is still a place of half-freedom."
It is one thing to study African-American history in your textbooks, and another to read accounts of real individuals' lives over the last 400 years. This book is not a just vague overview of history or a simple composition of mildly interesting stories. It is a powerfully personal take on the harrowing and extraordinary journey of African-America. It lends a voice to the ghosts of African America's past. If you are looking for a way to observe Black History Month or simply want to become more educated on the history and reality of Black America, then look no further than Four Hundred Souls.