Humphrey School News—August 22, 2018

Humphrey School Co-Hosts Conference on Race in America 50 Years After Watershed Kerner Report

Symposium examines the legacy and impact of the Kerner Commission Report

(MINNEAPOLIS, MN)—It's been 50 years since the Kerner Commission concluded, in the wake of several summers of racial violence in the 1960s, that the United States was moving toward two societies, "one black, one white—separate and unequal," and recommended substantial action to address racial disparities in education, employment, housing, and other areas. 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs is hosting a major symposium on race relations in America September 6-7, featuring scholars, historians, and urban leaders to examine the meaning of Kerner in the present day.

“We will revisit the causes and consequences of the civil disorders that gave rise to the Kerner report, and reflect on its relevance in a 21st century America that is once again divided,” said Professor Samuel Myers Jr., director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice at the Humphrey School.   

The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University is co-hosting the conference.

“The report’s 50th anniversary provides an opportunity for us to reflect as a society, and reassess from a research point of view, where we’ve been and where we’re going,” said Susan T. Gooden, interim dean of the VCU Wilder School. “This has been a wonderful collaboration between the Humphrey School and the Wilder School as both are strongly committed to social equity and racial justice.”

A head shot of former US Senator Fred Harris, last living member of the Kerner CommissionThe 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report National Conference will feature keynote speeches from former U.S. Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma (pictured), the only surviving member of the Kerner Commission, and L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the first African American to be elected governor in the United States. The Wilder School is named for him.

The conference coincides with the release of “The 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report,” a collection of articles exploring its legacy and relevance today that was commissioned by the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, and a forthcoming special edition of The Review of Black Political Economy.

The conference is cosponsored by the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota; the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University; the National League of Cities; the Russell Sage Foundation; and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The conference is free and open to the public; however, registration is required. Find more information here

Background on the Kerner Commission

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders —often referred to as the Kerner Commission in deference to its chairman, Otto Kerner — was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, after four summers of urban racial disorders and violence in several major cities.  The president tasked the commission with addressing three central questions:  What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

After conducting a comprehensive investigation, visiting cities affected by riots, and consulting with scores of experts and witnesses, the Kerner Commission issued its report on 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 Kerner Report outlined core recommendations for a National Plan of Action, with a goal of moving towards “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 findings of the report. Shortly after it was released, the nation was shaken by the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and riots and violence broke out in many cities across the country.                            

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