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The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America Reprint Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1439505052
ISBN-10: 1439505055
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As cotton farming became increasingly mechanized, an estimated five million blacks migrated from the rural South to the urban North between 1940 and 1970. Lemann, Atlantic contributing editor, re-creates this vast migration in microcosm by focusing on a handful of blacks who left the Mississippi Delta for Chicago's slums. Intertwined with their personal stories are several subplots: high-level wrangling in JFK's and LBJ's war on poverty; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley applying the ?? brake to integration efforts; the raging debate over the root causes of the persistence of an underclass; the crumbling of an interracial, nonviolent civil rights movement and its replacement by the furtherance of black programs as a black cause. One of Lemann's main aims is to refute the widespread belief that all the federal government's past efforts to help the black poor failed. He sketches a framework for a wholesale assault on poverty. This compellingly dramatic, vivid document speaks to the nation's racial conscience. 40,000 first printing; BOMC, History Book Club and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Focusing on the larger post-1940 complement of the black South-to-North movement--the "Great Black Migration"--that created New York's Harlem and similar black quarters in every major northern city, Lemann traces the roots of Ameri ca's rotting ghettos. Moving between Clarksdale, Mississippi, Chicago, and the nation's capital with skill, Lemann (a contributing editor at The Atlantic ) particularizes and personalizes in life stories the forces that shifted five million blacks North after 1940 and then trapped most of them and their progeny in poverty. His essay in social causation and consequences rings as a manifesto of public policy for the 1990s with the clear theme that the nation can and must undo what its racism has done. It is highly recommended for all collections on contemporary America. Quality Paperback Book Club alternate.
- Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Library Binding: 408 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439505055
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439505052
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,397,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"The Promised Land" is a fascinating study of the effects, both on the "immigrants" themselves and on America, of the migration of Blacks from the Mississippi Delta to the industrial cities of the North, in this case, specifically Chicago. The book traces the experiences of a group of individuals who made the migration, telling their story through time, beginning with the immigrants and continuing on with the families they built in the North, with a rough time frame of the 1940's - 1970's.
The book comprises 2 basic strengths: the approach to the material and the resulting structure in which the story is told, and the sheer interest of the events themselves and the people who lived them.
The author approaches the story he wishes to tell in two ways: He relates the story of the people themselves, giving these sections of the book an oral history like content, but intermixes the chapters with those based on an analytic, scholarly approach, where the individual strories previously related are woven into the bigger historical picture. The approach works wonderfully, giving the book a structure both readable as a straightforward story of human beings relating their own very personal roles in historical events but also allowing the reader to put these events in a greater historical context, to understand for instance the sad downward slope experienced in the Black working class communities as the years passed. The early immigrants made their way to Black sections of Chicago which, while segregated and relatively poor compared to the White sections, also managed to provide at least the basis of a thriving community, in which work was available and there was a hope of moving up in the world.
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This is a well written interesting book presenting information vital to understanding contemporary America. At the same thime this is only indirectly a book about the Great Black Migration. Rather it is about policies at the federal level, especially the collage of programs called the "war on poverty" and how they relate to American society in the 1960s and 1970s with examples from several African Americans from the Clarksdale Mississippi area who migrated to Chicago, several of them returning to Clarksdale.

One of the most valuable parts of the book--and well-written-is the description of the changes that went on in the 1940s with mechanism of agriculture that led to the migration--cotton got picked and then weeded mechanically the army of cotton field hads who had been the most important segment of the African American population was no longer needed in the South. This is one of the best and most practical explanations of this, especially as he focuses on Clarksdale Mississippi and the surrounding area. He gives a good history of the evolution of the cotton crop in the area and the evolution of Black society, providing examples in the lives of several people.

To me this is quite useful because one of my chief focuses is the history of the Blues. Clarksdale --the big town near where Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Son House, Charlie Batton, and so many other Blues singers came from--is central to the history of the Delta Blues. Knowing the social and economic conditions that existed there is quite useful for music scholars who can profit from this part of the book.
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I read this book in conjunction with reading "the southern diasposa." If one were to only buy/read only one of these books, I would definitely recommend the latter; however, I'll go on to review the former, which is worth the read, as well.

"The Promised Land" starts out with its best. The first chapter is about Clarksdale, Mississippi, and how Blacks and whites interacted there in the first decades of the 20th century. The whites lived on one side of the tracks, the Blacks on the other. Blacks could not vote, and there was no guarantee their children would have an education. Blacks lived in plantation cabins with roofs that leaked and without electricity or insulation. The shareholder system was in place, as was segregation. The landholders needed Blacks to pick cotton and work the fields; the Blacks had nowhere else to go and no other way to make a living. In 1900, 90% of American Blacks lived in The South.

A really good cotton picker could make $4 per day, but in Chicago in the 40's, one could make 75 cents per hour. Plus, one could work overtime, and rent a place relatively cheap. It was a way out; it was an opportunity. The author introduces us to several cottonpickers and laborers in Clarksdale who decide that they have had enough. They move to Chicago to seek the promised land and opportunities. One is Ruby Hopkins.

The book then tells us about the Black experience in Chicago in the 40's, via Ruby and others, and it introduces us to the world of Mayor Daily. But, abruptly, in a new chapter, the book moves us to Washington, D.C., where we get excruciating details about the politics of Washington in the 60's and 70's and how it addressed Black poverty and inequality. It's as if another book has begun.
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