KERNER REPORT In response to the racial violence which became part and parcel of American innercity life during the mid-1960's, President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 appointed a commission headed by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the causes of and possible solutions to the tragedy of innercity racial rioting. The Kerner Commission Report (1968) was a hard-hitting and provocative analysis of American race relations in general and of the problems confronting innercity African Americans in particular.
Pointing out that the typical racial riot during the 1960's had its own unique and complex character, the report attempted to dispel the notion that American racial disorders were the result of deliberate conspiracy, Communist or otherwise. On the contrary, it was asserted that "white racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II." This racism, in turn, created the urban ghetto. "What white Americans have never fully understood," the report continued, "is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it."
Furthermore, the causes of innercity racial disorders are implicit in the situations and conditions of ghetto life: police harassment and brutality, inadequate housing, unemployment, inferior educational opportunities, low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates. These factors, coupled with black racial pride and the belief that hostility of whites toward blacks is omnipresent, were cited as major grievances of innercity blacks — grievances which have the potential of generating and sustaining a major riot.
The recommendations proposed by the Kerner Commission called for a program "equal to the dimension of the problems." In other words, a massive federal spending program was recommended to eradicate slum conditions, economic and social discrimination and poverty. Preoccupied with American involvement in Southeast Asia, however, President Johnson chose to shelve the Report and its recommendations for the time being. Considering the course of African American history, this was not surprising. Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, a distinguished scholar and one of the first witnesses to appear before the Commission, certainly must have anticipated such a reaction. During the Kerner hearings, Clark stated: "I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission — it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland — with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction." See also: GHETTO and RACE RIOTS.