How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South

"All this leads McCaulley to ask: If there is a God, why has racism persisted for so long?" — Colin Farmer

Esau McCaulley
Convergent Books, 240 pages | Published September 12, 2023

In his memoir, Anglican priest and Wheaton professor Esau McCaulley guides readers through his life story – the full story, including the tough stuff – because he knows that no one will understand his experience through only bits and pieces. As a Black man growing up in the South, McCaulley shows how hardship helped his family find and sustain their faith.

Challenging the tropes and stigmas associated with any marginalized group cannot be the responsibility of a single individual. McCaulley is clear that neither his life, nor that of any Black American, can be caricatured into a simple bootstraps tale of success through adversity. His family faced extraordinary hardships, largely associated with the systematic racism that plagues the United States, and McCaulley intertwines his story with those of his ancestors, spanning generations to share how they prayed and spoke to God to overcome myriad challenges.

McCaulley writes that while a God-given miracle isn’t always the solution that occurs, God gives the strength to fight just a little longer, something that is exceptionally true in his family.

The story of McCaulley’s life, however, is his alone, and it’s filled with stories of God supporting him in tough times. One of many powerful examples is when McCaulley’s father – who had promised to take him on a road trip – instead abandoned his family, disappearing for two months. McCaulley asked God to help him through that dark time, and it was the relationship he built with God that saw him through, simply by remembering that God had known hardship, too.

Anti-Black racism is a constant theme. McCaulley’s ancestors worked on White-owned farms for little to no wages, and property was lost as White farmers squandered any chance of generational wealth. McCaulley grew up in low-income housing near Huntsville, Alabama, where racial profiling was common while driving, or even at the mall. All this leads McCaulley to ask: If there is a God, why has racism persisted for so long? McCaulley believes God responds to the pleas and prayers of those seeking help, but not always with tangible solutions. Despite knowing that most Americans want to end systemic racism in this country, hearts and minds must also change, he writes. It is hard to change a racist’s mind, a heavy truth that God knows as well.

While others might focus only on their successes, McCaulley captures the fullness of his life to share important lessons with his children, and with us all. McCaulley writes, “I realize now that I should tell them about the hard times, too, because there is no joy without suffering, and it is both the joy and the suffering that make me who I am.” This memoir offers both wholesome and heartbreaking moments, and McCaulley is brutally honest — readers should know that his story contains depictions of gun violence, drug use and racism. The powerful themes of his story will deeply resonate with anyone willing to join McCaulley on the journey, making his memoir perfect for personal reading.

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