Former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner holds a copy of the 1968 Commission on Civil Disorders report as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. Kerner, who headed the commission, warns of possible future civil disorders stemming from high unemployment among minorities. (Bettmann Getty Images) Former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner holds a copy of the 1968 Commission on Civil Disorders report as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. Kerner, who headed the commission, warns of possible future civil disorders stemming from high unemployment among minorities. (Bettmann Getty Images)

The Kerner Commission Report (Feb 1968)11 min read

Civil-Rights Politics
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Even though some conservatives would like to state that the United States is post-racial because we had a black president with President Obama, this could not be farther from the truth because even with what we see from the riots of the 60’s we see the exact same things happening today such as in Minneapolis with the coldblooded murder of George Floyd by 4 police officers and all of the protest happening here (and around the world) because of that in 2020. The more the world changes, the more it, sadly, stays the same. =(

As much as white America would like to believe that things are better while sitting within the relative safety of all of their white privilege, the United States has 5% of the world’s population but yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. We have proportionally more people imprisoned than China or even Russia during the height of the revolution, and a much larger proportion of that prison population is people of color.

Since the 60’s we have had the significant harms of the following racist policies which has led today’s tragic level of inequality, racism, and violence towards people of color:

  • The War on Drugs (70’s/80’s, Nixon, Reagan)
  • Trickle Down Economics (80’s, Reagan)
  • Mass Incarceration (Bill Clinton/Joe Biden , 90’s)
    • 3 Strikes Rule (Bill Clinton/Joe Biden, 90’s)
    • Mandatory Minimum Sentences (Bill Clinton/Joe Biden, 90’s)
    • Increase in prisons (Bill Clinton/Joe Biden , 90’s)
    • Increase in officers (Bill Clinton/Joe Biden , 90’s)
  • Stop and Frisk (2000’s, New York City)
  • School to Prison Pipeline (2000’s)
  • Prison Privatization (2000’s)

… and so much more.

The Kerner report is as much of a repudiation of America’s systemic, structural, and historical racism found within both major parties (Democrats and Republicans) as well the structural foundation of capitalism too. Sadly, it’s words ring as true during the Civil Rights era of Dr. King as they do in today’s dystopian world.

I. 1967 Race Riots

Here are just a few links to get you started learning about the riots:

A. Video

Here is a short 33 minute documentary from CSPAN3: 1967 Detroit Riots WXYZ-TV Documentary Clip:

1967 Detroit Riots WXYZ-TV Documentary Clip (CSPAN3, Reel America, July 2017)

B. Some of the Riots

Here is a list of a few of those riots with Wikipedia links:

List of some of the riots through the long hot summer of 1967
Location Date
Buffalo, NY June 26 – July 1
Cairo, IL July 17
Cambridge, MA July 24, 1967
Avondale, Cincinnati, OH June 12 – June 15
Detroit, MI July 23 – 28
Milwaukee, WI July 30 – August 3
Newark, NJ July 12 – 17
Plainfield, NJ July 14 – 16
Saginaw, MI July 26
Portland, OR July 30

C. Links

II. About the Kerner Commission

A. Genesis

Following the over 160 race protests and riots in over 120 cities during the long hot summer of 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11365 and formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (NACCD) (aka The Kerner Commission) on July 28, 1967. The 11 members of this commission were all male and all white (9), except for NAACP head Roy Wilkins and Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass (2).

Here is a video of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to the Nation Regarding Civil Disorder (27 July 1967) :

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to the Nation Regarding Civil Disorder (27 July 1967 )

Johnson tasked the commission to answer these 3 questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

Due to his faltering political support from being attacked from the anti-war left (such as Dr. King vs the Vietnam War) and from the right due to great hostility towards Johnson’s Great Society Programs he wanted a quick response to the many riots, so he hastily created the commission and attempted to stack the commission with his supporters and moderates in hopes that the final report would agree with his views or allow enough time to have passed so that it would all blow over and people would move on. He also hoped that the report would allow him to rely on praise of his Great Society Programs. He even worked to deny funding to the commission so that it would fail its so very important task.

The commission’s work consisted of social scientists and a lot of on-the-ground work – actually going to the areas effected and talking to people. It was a powerful, awakening, and transformational experience making it hard for anyone on the commission to deny the reality of poverty, inequality, and racism when you see it and hear it first hand.

Former senator and Kerner Commissioner Fred Harris (Democrat from Oklahoma) explained during a 2017 interview with NPR – 50 Years On, Sen. Fred Harris Remembers Great Hostility During 1967 Race Riots:

We held about 20 days of hearings, and then we divided up into teams and visited the cities where riots had occurred. And what we found was that there’d been a huge influx since World War II of African Americans from Southern states coming from criminally inferior schools, looking for jobs about the time that jobs were disappearing. They didn’t have any transportation. Housing was awful. The schools were inferior. And there’d been all sorts of conflicts with the police so that there was enormous hostility between the people and the police in those cities.

50 Years On, Sen. Fred Harris Remembers Great Hostility During 1967 Race Riots (NPR 2017)

B. Release of Report

When the commission’s full 409 page report was released on February 29, 1968, the incensed President Johnson refused to formally receive the publication in front of the press and refused to talk about the report when asked by the media. He even refused to sign the traditional thank-you letters to the commissioners. Roy Wilkins, a member of the Kerner Commission, was profoundly disappointed in Johnson’s response.

As we should expect, there was considerable backlash from whites and conservatives for pointing straight to the attitudes and racism of whites as a prime cause of the riots. There were also attacks from those on the left too. Racism was (and still is) present in ALL parts of the political spectrum.

In stark contrast to the angered President Johnson’s response and of whites and conservatives in general, the report was so popular with the public that it sold over a two million copies. A whole generation of intellectuals, activists, community organizers, and politicians who lived through the civil rights era devoured the report and its findings.

The report is not with its set of valid criticisms. Within the desire to be able to pass something that was not so radically poignant as to put the blame specifically to the feet of white people and the structure of the US’s systems itself, they had to moderate what was said otherwise the report would not reach a consensus so that it could be finally released. Areas that it should have talked about here where areas such as:

  • what exactly was meant as white racism – examples
  • structural and institutional forms racism
  • the role of black nationalism
  • power and wealth redistribution
  • the role of the increasingly militarization of the domestic government agencies

Fortunately, the report stated very much of the truth of the state of the racism, inequality, and police brutality which were responsible for the explosion of the riots of 1967. Barely a month following the report’s release on Feb 29, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 which resulted in more riots.

Please take the time to read the report.
I have links to the following below:

  • the published summary
  • the report itself
  • videos about the report
  • articles about the report

C. Quotes from the Kerner Report

Note: I need to find more, but this will do for now.

What white Americans have never fully understood ”but what the Negro can never forget” it is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (NACCD) [Feb 1968]

In language that calls to the famous Brown vs Board of Education supreme court case which led to the desegregation of schools it stated:

Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.

National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (NACCD) [Feb 1968]

D. Learn More


Sadly, with racism being as foundational an American principle that when people protest racism that some think that they are protesting America itself. Sadly, not much has changed since in the last 50 years. We need powerful systemic change to stop this history from repeating decade after decade with innocent life after innocent life being lost due to racism, exploitation, and inequality. We can change this, our collective blood-soaked history. We must change it.

Much of what you will see with the recommendations of the report such as increased spending in areas such as: education, employment, housing, police community relations, and welfare are the same things that liberals and progressives today are fighting for to attempt to make real change.

My policies on Interstellar New Deal specifically call to this sort of a plan of action. I even state specifically on my page for Law Enforcement Reform that the other changes such as social, economic, education, healthcare ad electoral reform will have a far greater effect on crime reduction than anything on that on my policy page to reform law enforcement itself.

If you want to read quite a bit more about the problems we face and how to fix them here are the 4 books that are required reading.

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