Below is my journal entry about Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, for this week’s writing prompt

If I’m being honest about my experience reading this book, I should say that I’m still processing and reflecting on a lot of what I’ve read from it. 

I’ll try to keep the journal entry below brief because I don’t want to spoil the reading and learning experience for those who haven’t had the chance to read the book yet, as this book should be required reading for everyone. 

Musings On Four Hundred Souls

As I read Four Hundred Souls, I felt as if a veil was slowly being lifted from over my eyes, a veil that was arching up millimeter by millimeter, slowly but surely, with each story I read. And there came a point while reading when I was finally able to see those souls, human souls, that I hadn’t been able to see before. Souls that I was blind to, due to the hegemonic history that had been indoctrinating me and permeating my own consciousness since grade school, or perhaps even before then. A history that was (and still is) woefully incomplete in common discourse because of how long it’s been neglected, not because it isn’t there or hasn’t always been there. 

While reading Four Hundred Souls, I slowly began to see faces and hear voices, of the maroons and the rebels next to the revolutionaries and the families and the intellectuals and the connected strangers and the philosophers and the preachers and the politicians and the artists and the poets next to the activists and the mothers and fathers and children—so, so many vibrant souls. I saw them next to natural landmarks and buildings and in homes and in cities and schools and in fields and on roads both above ground and underground, and traveling across oceans, rivers, and swamps. Across centuries and miles. And while they came into focus, I saw how they had all been an integral part of American history all along, even though I couldn’t see them fully before. But as I continued to read, my vision of them became a lot less blurry. And their voices became a bit louder and more distinct. 

Black history is American history. American history is not complete without Black history, without Black voices and perspectives. That’s what this book has allowed me to see a little clearer than I did before. I thought I knew. But I didn’t know. There’s still so much I don’t know, that I don’t see. But I want to know and need to see. And even after reading this book, I’m still processing and reflecting and observing and learning, hoping to further understand history as it is and as it was, in reality. 

I also took notes on the many laws and policies that were written about and discussed in Four Hundred Souls, as well as many notable court cases and important event dates and accounts I had never known about before. I’ll follow up and read more about them, and keep on reading and learning about their origins and the souls behind them. 

Through such information and notes in this book, I began to understand more about how racism has been encoded into the movements and bodies in America, and the bodies of American government and law, since the nation’s very inception. I knew this conceptually before, but now it makes a little bit more sense to me, in my gut, in my own soul. 

While I was reading Four Hundred Souls, I started envisioning faces and eyes and mouths and expressions and sighs and memories and triumphs and obstacles and thoughts and dreams—souls— as I also learned about documents and movements and books and articles and histories and poetry— inspired by those souls. 

Four Hundred Souls did come together as a “cohesive and connected narrative with strikingly different—yet unified—voices. A choir.”(p.xv), as Kendi indicated it would in its introduction.

Overall, Four Hundred Souls truly is unlike any other book I’ve read about Black History before. It made Black History, American History, come alive for me in ways a history book never has before… and I’ve read a lot of history books. And I’m hoping that it’s not unlike any other books about Black History that have yet to be written. 

Did you complete this week’s writing prompt? Share a link to it in the comments at the bottom of the page. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium with a link to your completed prompt, or to share more about your experience completing the prompt. 

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