50 Years After the Kerner Commission


When dozens of urban areas across the country erupted in flames in the late 1960s, a commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson concluded that pervasive poverty and racism were major causes of the unrest.

Fifty years later, those twin conditions are again causing friction in American society, say the authors of a new report, who include the last living member of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The report calls for a commitment by political leaders to large-scale social spending at a time when the administration of President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress are preparing for drastic cuts to programs for low-income families and individuals.

“Healing our Divided Society,” a report to be released Tuesday by the Eisenhower Foundation, acknowledges strides in closing the economic, social and political gaps between racial groups in America. The African American and Hispanic middle classes have grown significantly, and the United States elected and reelected a black man as president.

But since the late 1960s, the percentage of American children living in poverty has increased, income inequality and the wealth gap have widened, and segregation has crept back into schools and neighborhoods.

“Racial and ethnic inequality is still with us. It’s a real problem and it is worsening,” said Fred Harris, a former senator and member of the panel that came to be known as the Kerner Commission, named for its chairman, Otto Kerner Jr., a Democrat who was then governor of Illinois.” 


The Kerner Omission.

Fifty years after the so-called “Kerner Commission,” a landmark federal report on race, poverty, and violence, the missed opportunities are plain to see. Despite the commission’s focus on economic and racial inequality the Johnson and Nixon administrations turned the so-called “War on Poverty” into a “War on Crime,” the destructive vestiges of which are with us today.

Nicole Lewis has a feature story in THE MARSHALL PROJECT

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