50 Years Later, America Is Still Divided

Posted by on May 19, 2018 in Internet, Media & Arts, Social Media with 0 Comments

By Fred Harris and Alan Curtis | CNN News

“A physician's warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.”

That's the way the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described the 1968 report of President Lyndon Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (called the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois).
President Johnson had appointed this blue-ribbon citizens commission in the wake of the terrible riots that exploded in the black neighborhoods of many American cities during the long hot summer of 1967, with great loss of life, awful human injury and enormous property destruction — causing shock, fear, alarm, bewilderment and anxiety throughout the country. The worst disorders, in Newark and Detroit, were not finally quelled until the President sent in US Army troops.
President Johnson charged the Kerner Commission to investigate the riots and recommend action, not only from a law and order standpoint, but also in regard to their deeper causes. “Let your search be free,” the President told the commission members. “Find the truth and express it in your report.” And that is what the commission famously did, which, as it turned out, not only shocked the conscience of the nation, but greatly upset President Johnson, as well.
The Kerner Report condemned violence and lawlessness in the strongest terms, saying they “nourish repression, not justice,” and then came its basic finding: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
“Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans,” the report stated further, adding, “What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
Great and sustained national efforts were required, the Kerner Report said, not only to combat racism, but also to significantly invest in human capital, through programs against unemployment and low wages, poverty, inferior or inadequate education and training, lack of health care, and bad or nonexistent housing.
The report also made strong recommendations for improving the conduct of the media and the police, and for the further integration of housing and schools. These recommendations applied to all Americans, “rural and urban, white, black, Spanish-surnamed, and American Indians.”

 

But, misinformed about its contents and distracted by the Vietnam War, President Johnson rejected the Kerner Report (and this is particularly sad because President Johnson did more against poverty and racism than any other president, before or since).
However, the report was leaked to the media, with detrimental effect, before the commission could, as planned, background reporters so they would fully understand the reasons for the panel's findings and recommendations. This leak resulted in hastily written news stories that appeared throughout the country the next morning and which carried shocking headlines, something like: “White Racism Cause of Black Riots, Commission Says.” Many people never learned “the rest of the story.” Not surprisingly, there was considerable backlash in the country.

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