May 22, 2022
In 1967, 159 riots erupted across the country. The worst of these occurred in Detroit, New Jersey, and New York City. In Detroit, 43 people were killed and more than 1,100 injured. It was the most violent riot of the year and remains one of the worst in U.S history.
In response to the death and violence of that summer, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission. The commission was to be chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner and would investigate what caused the riots and make recommendations for preventing future unrest.
The 11 members of the commission were:
John Hope Franklin, historian from Howard University
Arthur Raper, sociologist from Atlanta University
Elijah Cummings, Baltimore lawyer who represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his 1964 arrest in Baltimore
In March 1968, the commission released a report that concluded that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white - separate and unequal." The report detailed the causes of civil unrest in cities across the United States in 1967. As a result of its findings, President Lyndon B. Johnson created 15 task forces to address issues raised by the Kerner Commission's report and established an Office of Economic Opportunity to use federal funds to increase economic opportunity for African Americans.
The commission noted that decades of institutionalized unemployment and abusive policing created a nation where "white racism" collided with "black rage and hatred."
The report found that the city's police department had developed a reputation for brutality and corruption, which was exacerbated by its relationship with the mob. But it concluded this was not "the cause" of the riots. Rather, it stated:
``The riot did not occur because of one isolated incident. It was the result of an atmosphere of hostility between police and Negroes in Detroit, which in turn grew out of years of unresolved racial conflict.''
The Kerner Commission report and concluded that the root cause of riots was racial discrimination and segregation. However, it also noted that poor housing was a major root of the civil unrest. It found that 75 percent of African-Americans resided in slums or deteriorated housing compared to 10 percent for whites.
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