The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, was an 11-member Presidential Commission established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in Executive Order 11365 to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots in the United States and to provide recommendations for the future.
President Johnson appointed the commission on July 28, 1967, while rioting was still underway in Detroit, Michigan. Mounting civil unrest since 1965 had spawned riots in the black and Latino neighborhoods of major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles (Watts riots of 1965), Chicago (Division Street Riots of 1966 [the first Puerto Rican riot in US History]), and Newark (1967 Newark riots). In his remarks upon signing the order establishing the Commission, Johnson asked for answers to three basic questions about the riots: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?”
The Commission’s final report, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders or Kerner Report, was released on February 29, 1968, after seven months of investigation. The report became an instant bestseller, and over two million Americans bought copies of the 426-page document. Its finding was that the riots resulted from black frustration at the lack of economic opportunity. Martin Luther King Jr. pronounced the report a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.”
The report berated federal and state governments for failed housing, education and social-service policies. The report also aimed some of its sharpest criticism at the mainstream media. “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”
The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
Its results suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism and suggested that white America bore much of the responsibility for black rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment. In order to do so, the report recommended for government programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most notably, to invest billions in housing programs aimed at breaking up residential segregation.
Among other points, the Commission’s suggestions included:
“Unless there are sharp changes in the factors influencing Negro settlement patterns within metropolitan areas, there is little doubt that the trend toward Negro majorities will continue.”
“Providing employment for the swelling Negro ghetto population will require …opening suburban residential areas to Negroes and encouraging them to move closer to industrial centers…”
“…cities will have Negro majorities by 1985 and the suburbs ringing them will remain largely all white unless there are major changes in Negro fertility rates, in migration settlement patterns or public policy.”
“…we believe that the emphasis of the program should be changed from traditional publicly built slum based high rise projects to smaller units on scattered sites.”
The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration released federal funding for local police forces in response. Appointed by Johnson to serve as the commission’s executive director, David Ginsburg played a pivotal role in writing the commission’s findings.