As I read Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 to complete my journal entry for this week’s writing prompt, I really do feel as if I’m reading a “cohesive and connected narrative with strikingly different—yet unified—voices. A choir.”(p. xv) And as I read Four Hundred Souls, I sense how this is an attribute of written Black History that can make it truly come alive in the present— this profound quality of an extremely diverse yet connected community with distinct yet unified voices, the attribute of a choir of voices. A choir filled with “sopranos”, “altos”, “tenors”, and others, who come together to make history soulful, and a soulful history.

Surely there are many other attributes within Black History books that make them come alive, as well as this one I’m writing about now. This attribute of a choir of voices is just one that I’m noticing in the book I’m currently reading. You might be noticing something different, and as equally profound, in the Black History book you’re reading. 

Ibram X. Kendi ends the introduction of Four Hundred Souls with:

“There may be no better word to encapsulate Black American history than community

“I don’t know how the community has survived— and at times thrived— as much as it has been deprived for four hundred years. The history of Black America has been almost spiritual. Striving to survive the death that is racism. Living through death like spirits. Forging a soulful history. A history of souls. A soul for each year of history. Four Hundred Souls.”

Page xvii,  Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019

This attribute of voices as spirits, as souls, is profound and resonates with me as someone who’s also studied literature academically, vocationally, and recreationally. 

I still have a lot to read and learn, as we all do. But this particular attribute of human souls as both spirits in history and in the present, telling and living history simultaneously, immediately reminds me of Toni Morrison’s writing. In several of her works, especially the notable and widely acclaimed Song of Solomon and Beloved, Morrison incorporates spirits, and the spiritual, into her narratives to tell and show Black History, while also encapsulating the present, offering generational links for a community.  

“But as Ms. Morrison’s writing also makes clear, the past is just as strongly manifest in the bonds of family, community and race — bonds that let culture, identity and a sense of belonging be transmitted from parents to children to grandchildren. These generational links, her work unfailingly suggests, form the only salutary chains in human experience.”

The New York Times; Toni Morrison, Towering Novelist of the Black Experience, Dies at 88 by Margalit Fox; August 6, 2019

As I read Four Hundred Souls, I am also experiencing and sensing the bonds of family and community, as well as a sense of belonging and culture that’s transmitted over generations across Black History, similar to what we sense and experience in Morrison’s work. This attribute of a choir of voices, souls, spirits, all still very much alive, makes the Black History in Four Hundred Souls come alive.  

What are you discovering in the text you’re reading that’s making Black History come alive in the present? Is the Black History you’re reading this week reminding you of anything else you’ve read by other Black authors? Or are you learning or experiencing anything new as you read your Black History book this week? Leave a comment below to start or join a dialogue! 

Stay tuned for the draft of my journal entry on Four Hundred Souls. It’ll be posted on the blog on Friday. 

Discover anything else interesting you’d love to share as you’re writing this prompt? Let us know in the comments. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium. And be sure to scroll down to subscribe to Daily Drafts & Dialogues posts to get more inspiration as you complete this week’s writing prompt.


Subscribe to Daily Drafts & Dialogues: