The 1968 Kerner report on urban riots absolved blacks of responsibility and ignored real progress.
After the deadly riots of the 1960s in Los Angeles and Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission—which is what politicians do when they don’t really know what to do or need to stall for time. The result was the Kerner report, issued 50 years ago last month.
The report blamed black urban unrest on white racism, segregation and official neglect, all of which continue to get cited to explain the racial inequality that persists today. “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” the introduction read. “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The riots were attributed to “the failure of all levels of government—Federal and state, as well as local—to come to grips with the problems of our cities.”
The Kerner report’s most famous assertion was that the U.S. was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal,” even though the decades leading up to the riots had suggested the opposite. The Truman administration’s desegregation of the armed forces in the 1940s was followed by Martin Luther King Jr. ’s successful civil-rights movement of the 1950s and the passage of landmark civil-rights and voting-rights legislation in the 1960s. The educational and economic strides blacks made during this period were also unprecedented, and racial disparities were narrowing.
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.