(Revised post originally published on February 29, 2016)
Once again, it seems valuable to repost this piece about the Kerner Commission, formed fifty-one years ago to address violence in American cities.
On July 27, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was responding to a series of violent outbursts in predominantly black urban neighborhoods in such cities as Detroit and Newark. (New York Times account.)
On July 29, 1967, President Johnson made remarks about the reasons for the commission:
The civil peace has been shattered in a number of cities. The American people are deeply disturbed. They are baffled and dismayed by the wholesale looting and violence that has occurred both in small towns and in great metropolitan centers.
No society can tolerate massive violence, any more than a body can tolerate massive disease. And we in America shall not tolerate it.
But just saying that does not solve the problem. We need to know the answers, I think, to three basic questions about these riots:
–Why did it happen?
–What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?
Source:Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Signing Order Establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.,” July 29, 1967. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, later known as the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, issued a stark warning:
“Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”
The Committee Report went on to identify a set of “deeply held grievances” that it believed had led to the violence.
Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.
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
Source: “Our Nation is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”: Excerpts from the Kerner Report; American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY)
and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).
Issued half a century ago, the list of grievances reads as if it could have been written last week.