What A 1968 Report Tells Us About The Persistence Of Racial Inequality

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tags: poverty, racism, inequality, urban history, Kerner Commission

In summer of 1967, African Americans protested, marched, and rioted in cities across the country. The unrest convinced President Lyndon Johnson to set up the Kerner Commission, which spent about six months doing research, visiting slums, and holding hearings. In 1968, they published a provocative report that civil rights leader Jesse Jackson recently called "the last attempt to address honestly and seriously the structural inequalities that plague African Americans."

"Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans," the Kerner report said. "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."

Fifty years later, Americans are taking to the streets again, protesting systemic inequities that haven't gone away. How much has really changed?

In many ways, America has made progress toward racial equality since the late sixties. Black Americans have, for instance, seen huge gains in education, in political and media representation, and in infant mortality rates. But, in many ways, Black Americans haven't made much economic progress, especially in relative terms. Even before the pandemic and economic collapse — which are disproportionately hurting the black community — the national black poverty rate of 22% was more than double the white poverty rate of 9%. While there is a larger black middle class than 50 years ago, the median black household has only a tenth of the wealth of the median white household. And every year, black workers earn, on average, 25% less than white workers.

Read entire article at NPR