The Promised Land Essay

Nicholas Lemann is the author of “The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America”, a book that takes place between 1940 and 1970. What sets this bestseller apart from those written about the same time period is the way Lemann gives the Black Migration and Civil Rights Movement faces and voices. He uses interviews and observation to tell the stories of each man and women passionate about making a change during this time. This includes politicians, bureaucrats, civil rights organizations, etc. The book breaks apart this time into three cities: Clarksdale, Washington, and Chicago. The book changes between these three cities to show what was happening in each place simultaneously. Each chapter represents a city and they cut into each other multiple times.

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The focus of this paper, however; will be Washington and how it interacted with Chicago to aid blacks throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Washington, regardless of its importance in the literal sense, is used in a figurative sense throughout Lemann’s book as a metaphor for the federal government. The Promised Land, in fact, is a metaphor for blacks making it into a world without segregation; a world of equality for all. The Washington section starts off with John and, his brother, Robert Kennedy. John is running for presidency, however, he still needs a nomination at this time. Robert is leading his campaign. To ensure a nomination and election, it’s important to get the white vote, of course, but a black vote is necessary as well. These two votes have to be gained while straying away from the topic of Civil Rights to avoid controversy. If word gets out that John is a Civil Rights Activist, especially as a democrat, he will lose the majority of the southern white votes.

Nevertheless, if he talks down about Civil Rights he could lose the majority of the black vote as well. This election must be strategically played to win over both sides. Robert Kennedy sees this and carries out the actions he believes are necessary to win the election. Martin Luther King and his son Martin Luther King, Junior are mentioned briefly as Nixon advocates. The elder Martin formally endorsed Nixon, but his son thought a Catholic should not be president for religious reasons. He didn’t share these ideas, but he was close with Nixon and knew him a long time so he was okay with giving him his vote. However, his mind changed when Kennedy put in a call to Coretta King, Junior’s wife, while he was in jail in Georgia. As it seemed to look like a move of compassion, the call was placed strategically by the liberals on Kennedy’s staff. Sargent Shriver is the brother in law of the Kennedys. During the election he was in charge of the minority section.

He had a feeling the call would benefit the election, therefore; he talked John Kennedy into making it. At first, Robert was sure it would ruin John’s chances of getting elected and was furious with Shriver for doing this. He made a remark about bomb-throwing and threatened it would be the last thing they do within the campaign. Robert’s actions, although beneficial, came off as snobby and controlling. In the early months of the election, he is very picky and stubborn about who has the privilege of joining the party. Anyone who didn’t follow his rules, showed any signs of being against him, or were “weak” lost their spot in the front lines of the election.

For example, he disliked the fact that Lyndon Johnson, the vice president running with John Kennedy, because of his openly outward views on Civil Rights. In 1962, the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, broke the Kennedy code by integrating the University. He was later dismissed with a one-word assessment “Weak”. Robert needed to remain neutral on the topic to ensure a win in the election. Anyone who got in his way was terminated. However, once John was elected president, Robert did go out with his longtime friend David Hackett to help solve the delinquency issue of the urban north regions. Robert knew how it felt to be oppressed.

Lemann writes: “Even if he had started at Milton when everyone else did, he would have been an outsider there: he was Irish in a school with no Irish, Catholic in a school with no Catholics, runty, shy, and the son of Joseph P. Kennedy, a hated figure in the Boston WASP culture that dominated the school.” After John was elected, David Hackett came to Robert and had him go around Harlem and similar urban northern areas to work with The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) and the Gray Areas Project to experience poverty at its core. Ford Motor Company worked undercover to fund the Gray Areas Project in order to avoid protests and boycotts. On the other hand, TWO was funded through the Cardinal, who has absolute power over his dominion in Chicago. The money he used to fund TWO was from church collection plates, therefore; there wasn’t a need to worry about Mayor Daley or anyone putting them in danger financially.

Robert met with individuals from CORE and other important figures to find out what these areas need and how he can help. At first, Robert came off as a politician that only cared to get votes and attention, but in the end he was the real deal. Despite their efforts, John F Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Lydon Johnson took over and immediately picks up the Civil Rights Act and passes it within the next year in Kennedy’s honor. Johnson was good at talking up a storm and getting people on his side. He was an all knowing man and could easily persuade anyone to follow him. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a social scientist. He and Nathan Glazer worked together in 1963 to publish a book called Beyond The Melting Pot. They were both first generation city-bred white ethnics to make it to the highest level of education America had to offer. Because they grew up in the areas they researched, they had a firsthand account of the life others could merely read about.

Moynihan put forth the notion that ethnicity was remarkably persistent as an organizing principle for urban society. He later went on to be the Assistant Secretary of Labor for policy in the Kennedy administration as well as the early part of the Johnson administration. In 1968, when Nixon won the next presidential election Moynihan served as the Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs. How does this relate back to Chicago? Mayor Daley was not a fan of the organizations aiding poverty. In December of 1965, Richard J Daley and several colleagues planned to meet in Miami to share their complaints. According to Lemann, “…Daley was by far the most important enemy of community action”, and if it weren’t for him Kennedy would not have been elected president. He was a well-respected and powerful man who controlled a large block of votes in Congress that could ultimately pass any law. Members of the White House complained to say “We had problems with Daley on everything, and he always went to the White House, and he always won” Chicago, especially Mayor Daley, was a big factor in solving the urban poverty problem of the North.

Thankfully, by 1968, Daley called a summit conference to sign an agreement with King to open housing in the North. It wasn’t legally binding, however so it didn’t hold much important. Just as Kennedy’s death sparked a new beginning for Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Junior’s death sparked a change in the Civil Rights movement as well. Daley was reprimanded after Kings death and his decrease in popularity forced him to pass laws and aid poverty organizations to shine a brighter light on himself.

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