Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N Blain

This book may be illegal in your state.

If you live in Texas, Florida or any assorted U.S. states with Republican governments, it may be difficult to find Four Hundred Souls in your public library, school library, even at your local college or university library.

This is just the sort of book Texas Governor Abbot and Florida Governor DeSantis have in mind when they complain about Wokism. It will make white readers feel bad.

History, told honestly, is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the history section. Especially the American history section.

Four Hundred Souls has been around for a while, so you probably know the basic premise. The editors asked some 90 authors to write short pieces, three to five pages, about one topic centered on a five-year period in American history. The entries start at 1619 and end at 2019 covering a four-hundred-year history. They begin with Nikole Hannah-Jones on the arrival of the first enslaved Africans at Jamestown and end with Karine Jean-Pierre on the Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling which basically gutted the Voting Rights Act.

It’s difficult to imagine Governor DeSantis ever allowing high school students to read anything by these two particular Black women in a A.P. history class. Even if students in A.P. history tend to be 18 years old which is old enough to join the army.

But, if you are looking for a highly readable survey of American history in general, African American history in particular, Four Hundred Souls is a very good place to start. I found it to be a very easy read overall. One that covered familiar topics in an interesting and informative way and one that presented many topics that were new to me as well.

The book’s format makes it easy to read in both large and small chunks, whatever reading style fits you best. It’s also fine to skip around if that’s what you’d like to do. Since I’ve retired, I try not to think about possible classroom uses while I read, but there were quite a few sections that I would have used with an 8th grade history class as well as with high school or college level classes. I think younger readers would be very interested in the sections on boxer Jack Johnson, whom I never heard of, and on the Black Power movements. Of course, I taught in California where I was basically free to bring in reading material I thought students would enjoy.

Teachers in other parts of America do not have have that freedom. Asking students to read material which asks them to think critically about history can cost you your job these days. It’s just a matter of months, maybe a year, before the price could be time in jail.

Protect the children from their country’s history.

Read at your own risk.

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