Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism

Steven M. Gillon. Basic, $32 (400p) ISBN 978-0-465-09608-4
In this solid political history, Gillon, historian at the History Channel, provides the inside story of the Kerner Commission—the group assembled by President Lyndon Johnson to present an unsettled nation with an authoritative report on the race riots of 1967. In an accessible narrative, Gillon provides a thorough examination of the commission: the selection of its members, how its work would be organized, Johnson’s political interference, and the various debates among commissioners. Gillon also recounts the political motivations behind the commission’s formation, describing how Johnson aimed to “kick the issue of urban violence down the road” and eventually obtain an endorsement for his Great Society programs. Remarkably, the final report bluntly and provocatively blamed white racism for the riots; it starkly detailed the wretched conditions of African-Americans in the country’s poor urban areas—substandard housing, unemployment, underfunded education, rampant police brutality—and highlighted what Gillon explains was “the deep and profound sense of rejection and alienation felt by many African Americans.” In “the last gasp of 1960s liberalism,” the report, released in 1968, forcibly and urgently asserted the need for the federal government to take a leading role in alleviating such conditions, to a higher degree than previously considered. Gillon’s thought-provoking look into the Kerner Commission provides great insight into race issues of 1960s America. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/12/2018
Release date: 03/06/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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