Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

50 Years After Kerner: Problems, Policies, and Pathways Forward

Bradley Hardy Bradley Hardy

Watch video of the event

50 Years After Kerner: Problems, Policies, and Pathways Forward

Monday, March 11
Discovery Building, DeLuca Forum, 330 N. Orchard Street
5 to 6:30 p.m.

Bradley Hardy, associate professor of public affairs at American University, and nonresident senior fellow, the Brookings Institution

Bradley Hardy of American University will discuss the Kerner Commission Report, formally the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Monday, March 11 at the Discovery Building, 330 N. Orchard St. President Lyndon Johnson created the commission in 1967 after four summers of racial unrest and violence in several major cities. The basic conclusion of the report, published in 1968, was, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

Hardy, an associate professor of public affairs, will provide a brief synopsis of the Kerner Commission Report and the context within which the commission conducted its work. He will trace the evolution of black neighborhoods from the late 1960s until today and will discuss the major policy debates that took place over this period. Relying on relatively new social science evidence, Hardy will close by considering current economic policies and programs that aim to improve economic well-being.

The 90-minute event will begin at 5 p.m. with background information from Alan Curtis, president and CEO of the Milton Eisenhower Foundation, which published Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report in 2018. Curtis and Fred Harris (the only surviving member of the commission) co-authored the report.

Hardy, a nonresident senior fellow of economic studies at the Brookings Institution, also will answer questions from students at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. UW–Madison’s La Follette School and Institute for Research on Poverty are sponsoring the presentation.

About the Kerner Commission

President Lyndon Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in 1967, after four summers of racial unrest and violence in several major cities. President Johnson asked the commission to address three central questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

The 11-member group, led by Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr., of Illinois, is commonly known as the Kerner Commission. It conducted a comprehensive investigation, visiting cities affected by riots and consulting with scores of experts and witnesses, and issued its report February 29, 1968.

The Kerner Report attributed the causes of urban violence to white racism, and the neglect and isolation it produced for African Americans. The basic conclusion of the report was, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The report outlined core recommendations for a National Plan of Action, with a goal of moving toward “a single society and a single American identity.” It called for the substantial investment of federal funds to assist African American communities and prevent further racial polarization and violence. The main recommendations included those in the areas of education, employment, housing, police-community relations, and welfare.

President Johnson never accepted or acted upon the commission’s findings. Shortly after the report was released, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated, and riots and violence broke out in many cities across the country.

The Kerner Report’s legacy

In September 2018, Hardy and Marcus Casey of the University of Illinois at Chicago wrote 50 Years After the Kerner Commission Report, the Nation is Still Grappling with Many of the Same Issues. Both are nonresident fellows at the Brookings Institution. In their study, Hardy and Casey examined African American neighborhoods in cities where rioting occurred during the summer of 1967, including Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington, DC.

They found that the neighborhoods that directly experienced riots were homes to residents with lower incomes, lower educational levels, higher unemployment, and had higher incidence of welfare usage than other black neighborhoods that were not directly affected by riots. Moreover, these disparities in socioeconomic outcomes between residents of the neighborhoods that experienced riots, and residents of those that did not, persisted over time.

For instance, between 1970 and 2010, college attainment in riot-affected neighborhoods failed to catch up to the higher rate of college attainment within the average neighborhood. Roughly 25 percent of residents in the average neighborhood of a city that experienced rioting had a college degree by 2010, versus fewer than 15 percent in riot-affected neighborhoods.

As Hardy and Casey write, these trends “reflect the growing consensus among social scientists that place matters for both individual and group well-being and intergenerational advancement.”