This book is a solid companion piece to The 1619 Project, even though they are not expressly connected. I mentioned in a review for that book that it’s clearly positioned as part of a conversation, not the conversation itself. The structure of the book is to take big thematic historical essays about topics or concepts and trace them through history from the far past through time to the present. In addition, there are lots of interpolations of poetry and facts to supplement the essays.
This book works similarly and has as expansive and impressive a list of writers. Rather that strictly dealing with concepts, this one tells the history of four hundred years of African-American experience in small chunks, still covering as many important moments, ideas, and people as possible within the limits of the book, but dealing with them in historical context, sometimes also connecting them to the present. This book also uses poetry as supplemental material.
This book is successful in its method in the same ways that 1619 is successful in its. I am not convinced of the need for the inclusion of the poetry but I also understand why it’s there. The chunking out of history into ten forty-year blocks, and then those forty-year blocks into multiple smaller chapters works very well. One of my own experiences of reading history is that the 1600s is often near inscrutable outside of a few texts related to Calvinism, the King Philips War, and the original founding. Even large histories often skirt part this period. Other histories have suggested to me that while there is a ton of primary documents available, it’s still difficult to put them together in a holistic way. This section alone is worth my time reading.