Race Relations In America In 1968 – Past Daily Reference Room
. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – NET: Newsfront – Discussion on Race Relations – March 1968 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
As was pointed out earlier today via the Blog Concourse, the question isn’t about a broken system; the system does what it has always done. And as evidenced by the incidents at Ferguson, New York and countless other places, the system has been in place and hasn’t changed.
To say a system is broken is to acknowledge that a system was, even at one time, working. As proof the system hasn’t worked, I ran across this discussion from March of 1968 over the release of the Report Of The Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.
Here is the introduction to that report:
REPORT OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON CIVIL DISORDERS
SUMMARY OF REPORT
The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them
shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.
The worst came during a two-week period in July, first in Newark and then in Detroit.
Each set off a chain reaction in neighboring communities.
On July 28, 1967, the President of the United States established this Commission and
directed us to answer three basic questions:
Why did it happen?
What can be done to prevent it from happening again?
To respond to these questions, we have undertaken a broad range of studies and
investigations. We have visited the riot cities; we have heard many witnesses; we have
sought the counsel of experts across the country. .
This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black,
one white–separate and unequal.
Reaction to last summer’s disorders has quickened the movement and deepened the
division. Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life;
they now threaten the future of every American.
This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed.
Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a
To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American
community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.
The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the
realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.
This alternative will require a commitment to national action–compassionate,
massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest
nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new
understanding, and, above all, new will.
The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if
necessary, new taxes enacted.
Violence cannot build a better society. Disruption and disorder nourish repression,
not justice. They strike at the freedom of every citizen. The community cannot–it will
not–tolerate coercion and mob rule.
Violence and destruction must be ended–in the streets of the ghetto and in the
lives of people.
Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment
totally unknown to most white Americans.
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. It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished
business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and
visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all
citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every
Our recommendations embrace three basic principles:
* To mount programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems:
* To aim these programs for high impact in the immediate future in order to close the gap
between promise and performance;
* To undertake new initiatives and experiments that can change the system of failure and
frustration that now dominates the ghetto and weakens our society.
These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance, but
they neither probe deeper nor demand more than the problems which called them forth.
There can be no higher priority for national action and no higher claim on the nation’s
We issue this Report now, four months before the date called for by the President.
Much remains that can be learned. Continued study is essential.
As Commissioners we have worked together with a sense of the greatest urgency and
have sought to compose whatever differences exist among us. Some differences remain.
But the gravity of the problem and the pressing need for action are too clear to allow
further delay in the issuance of this Report.
The rest of the report outline can be downloaded here: Eisenhower Foundation Kerner Report
It’s an interesting assessment. And 46 years later, makes for more than few uncomfortable realities. Realities that haven’t changed.
This discussion, part of the NET (pre-PBS) program Newsfront, features Roy Wilkins of the NAACP who was a commission member, David Ginsburg who was Executive director of the National Advisory Commission, Robert Curvin who was head of the Community Action Training Program at Rutgers University and James Booker who was a reporter and advisor to the Commission.
For all the discussion and all the points made and all the cautious optimism expressed, the real point – the point as prevalent now as it was in 1968 was that, as Robert Curvin confessed; “I’m not at all confident about White America reading this report and hearing the newscasts and the radio reports and looking at itself and really appraising its effect on Black people in America”.
Same then – same now.
Here is that discussion, moderated by Mitchell Krause for Newsfront on March 4, 1968.