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. There is juicy information about President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and President Johnson...and Sargent Shriver, the war on poverty, the Office of Economic Opportunity and more. But I yearned to get back to the actual Black experience. And just like that, the book turns back to Chicago in the 60's.
The theme now is about how the Blacks from Clarksdale have coped in the 20 years in Chicago, who they have married, the kids they've had, the jobs, the welfare, the housing, etc. Some have made it, some have not. There are property lines that Blacks are not to cross, but as their population grows, the lines must be crossed. New schools and new housing are built. It is still a better experience than Clarksdale could have been. But there is much more crime. Folks get hooked on cocaine. Public housing deteriorates. In short, there can be a price to pay, if one cannot move beyond the Black ghetto.
Back in Clarksdale, the shareholder system is essentially over, as mechanical cotton pickers have taken over the need for most manual labor, and insecticides have been introduced to take care of weeds. Blacks still cannot vote, defacto segregation is still in place, and life still can be very hard for Blacks. Up North, if one has found a career in meat-packing, steel, manufacturing, hotel services or such, one had done well and has probably moved out of the ghetto. Ruby is still there. So, she makes the decision to move back to Clarksdale.
In her mid-70's now, Ruby is back to where she started. Several of her children and their children are there as well. She is better off than she has ever been. But it's still The South, and it is far from perfect. It is what it is.
So, that's the gist of the book, with tons of details skipped. Again, I much prefer the book, "the southern dispora" on this general topic, because I think it provides much more general information and has a better flow. But "The Promised Land" is still a fascinating read, for the most part.