Voices

Kerner Commission Established on this Day, 1967

On July 27, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (AKA the Kerner Commission), tasked with assessing the causes of widespread urban rioting at the time. President Johnson asked the 11-member commission, “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

This came about soon after the infamous 12th Street Riots in Detroit, Michigan, which left more than 40 people dead and 1000 injured.

The report, issued on February 29 of the next year, blamed the more than 150 riots between 1965 and 1968 on “white racism” instead of African-American political groups like some believed. Specifically, it identified confrontations between predominately white police forces and the predominately African-American communities they served. It also cautioned against radical responses by the black community, such as the policy of separatism advocated by some.

It concluded that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal” and called for “programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems” in response. The authors recommended nation-wide changes to policies that could increase aid to African American communities in order to halt further racial violence and polarization, especially in employment, education, welfare and housing.

A confluence of events and political opinions in the following years, including the assassination of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led to the recommendations of the Kerner Commission Report being largely ignored; President Johnson accepted the report but not the conclusions. This milestone document did pave the way for progress in future decades on issues of racial inequality, but its findings unfortunately still ring true today.

Elizabeth Cychosz 
Marketing and Communications Intern

Photo: President Johnson poses with the newly appointed Kerner Commission, 1967.

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