On This Day

kerner commission, otto kerner, otto kerner lbj
Yoichi Okamoto/Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
Otto Kerner and Lyndon B. Johnson at the first meeting of the Special Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, July 29, 1967.

On This Day: Kerner Commission Says America Moving Toward “Separate and Unequal” Society

February 29, 2012 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Feb. 29, 1968, the Kerner Commission released a report on racism in America, declaring that the country was in danger of moving “toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The Special Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders

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President Lyndon B. Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, headed by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner Jr., in July 1967 to examine the causes of urban race riots that had occurred in cities such as Chicago, Newark and Detroit in the summer of 1967. Johnson as the commission to answer the questions: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

Following the release of the commission’s report, The New York Times reported, “The commission said ‘white racism’ was chiefly to blame for the explosive conditions that sparked riots in American cities during the last few summers. But if also warned that a policy of separatism now advocated by many black militants ‘can only relegate Negroes to a permanently inferior economic state.’ As for the civil disorders that ravaged American cities last summer, the commission said they ‘were not caused by, nor were they the consequences of, any organized plan or “conspiracy.”’”

The commission advocated for the government to invest in housing and jobs programs to improve living conditions for blacks and end the segregation of many urban neighborhoods. Furthermore, it called for more diverse police forces, as black mistrust of primarily white forces had sparked violence in many areas.

Though he was a staunch supporter of civil rights and social welfare, President Johnson did not act on the commission’s recommendations. Urban violence continued through 1968, particularly after the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King.

Historical Context: Race Riots

In the 1960s, racial violence became common in all parts of the country. According to the McCone Report, which investigated the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, there were seven race riots in the U.S. in the summer of 1964, resulting in five deaths and 950 people injured.

Racial violence peaked in the summer of 1967, when 125 cities had race riots, according to PBS Thirteen. The two largest riots occured less than two weeks apart in July: Newark, N.J., had a six-day riot that left 26 dead and over 1,000 injured, and Detroit had a five-day riot that killed more than 40 people and injured hundreds.
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