Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The literal, political, and spiritual journey in Chuck Berry's "Promised Land"

Chuck Berry wrote "Promised Land" in prison with an atlas from the library to get the geography right. The "poor boy" travels from Norfolk to California in a celebration of the freedom of movement similar to earlier Berry songs, as well as to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", which the song alludes to. Further, the bus he first travels on "bypasses Rock Hill", the site of a sit-in by the Friendship Nine in 1961. The song's literal journey is thus a figurative political journey from the Jim Crow South to Californian freedom and a spiritual journey like the spirituals of enslaved African-Americans that figured both salvation and escape from slavery to freedom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 June)

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