This month marks 50 years since the release of a landmark report on race in America, commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It followed unrest in 1967 in cities like Newark and Detroit and was prepared by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission. Here are some excerpts from the report's summary, many of which, half a century later, still help provide context for today's social issues.
"Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American. This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution. To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values."
"It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens -- urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group."
"What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and the material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens. Rather than rejecting the American system, they were anxious to obtain a place for themselves in it."
"Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the occurrence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night."
"Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single 'triggering' or 'precipitating' incident. Instead, it was generated out of an increasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident --in itself often routine or trivial -- became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence. 'Prior' incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were 'final' incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders."
What fosters division...and what might fix it
"Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity: First Level of Intensity: 1. Police practices 2. Unemployment and underemployment 3. Inadequate housing. Second Level of Intensity: 4. Inadequate education 5. Poor recreation facilities and programs 6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms. Third Level of Intensity: 7. Disrespectful white attitudes 8. Discriminatory administration of justice 9. Inadequacy of federal programs 10. Inadequacy of municipal services 11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices 12. Inadequate welfare programs."
"The Commission recommends that the media:
* Expand coverage of the Negro community and of race problems through permanent assignment of reporters familiar with urban and racial affairs, and through establishment of more and better links with the Negro community.
* Integrate Negroes and Negro activities into all aspects of coverage and content, including newspaper articles and television programming. The news media must publish newspapers and produce programs that recognize the existence and activities of Negroes as a group within the community and as a part of the larger community.
* Recruit more Negroes into journalism and broadcasting and promote those who are qualified to positions of significant responsibility. Recruitment should begin in high schools and continue through college; where necessary, aid for training should be provided.
* Improve coordination with police in reporting riot news through advance planning, and cooperate with the police in the designation of police information officers, establishment of information centers, and development of mutually acceptable guidelines for riot reporting and the conduct of media personnel.
* Accelerate efforts to ensure accurate and responsible reporting of ... racial news, through adoption by all news gathering organizations of stringent internal staff guidelines.
* Cooperate in the establishment of a privately organized and funded Institute of Urban Communications to train and educate journalists in urban affairs, recruit and train more Negro journalists, develop methods for improving police-press relations, review coverage of riots and racial issues, and support continuing research in the urban field."
Working toward a better future
"No American -- white or black -- can escape the consequences of the continuing social and economic decay of our major cities. Only a commitment to national action on an unprecedented scale can shape a future compatible with the historic ideals of American society. The great productivity of our economy, and a federal revenue system which is highly responsive to economic growth, can provide the resources. The major need is to generate new will--the will to tax ourselves to the extent necessary, to meet the vital needs of the nation."
"The major goal is the creation of a true union -- a single society and a single American identity. Toward that goal, we propose the following objectives for national action:
* Opening up opportunities to those who are restricted by racial segregation and discrimination, and eliminating all barriers to their choice of jobs, education and housing.
* Removing the frustration of powerlessness among the disadvantaged by providing the means for them to deal with the problems that affect their own lives and by increasing the capacity of our public and private institutions to respond to these problems.
* Increasing communication across racial lines to destroy stereotypes, to halt polarization, end distrust and hostility, and create common ground for efforts toward public order and social justice. We propose these aims to fulfill our pledge of equality and to meet the fundamental needs of a democratic and civilized society -- domestic peace and social justice."
"Two points are fundamental to the Commission's recommendations: First: Federal housing programs must be given a new thrust aimed at overcoming the prevailing patterns of racial segregation. If this is not done, those programs will continue to concentrate the most impoverished and dependent segments of the population into the central-city ghettos where there is already a critical gap between the needs of the population and the public resources to deal with them. Second: The private sector must be brought into the production and financing of low and moderate rental housing to supply the capabilities and capital necessary to meet the housing needs of the nation."
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