Fred Harris on The Kerner Commission--40 Years Later
Bill Moyers Journal (PBS)
Barack Obama's March 18, 2008 speech, "A More Perfect Union," focused attention issues of race and class in America today. Forty years ago race and class was on the minds of Americans too — when The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders released its report on the urban riots of 1967. That report, more commonly known as the Kerner Report, with its stark conclusion that "Our nation is moving towards two societies — one white, one black — separate and unequal" — was a best-seller. It was also the source of great controversy and remains so today.
Referencing the Kerner Commission report has become rhetorical shorthand in some ways. For critics it suggests wasteful federal spending programs — for others, societal goals and potentials not yet met. In covering the 40th anniversary report USTODAY headlined its 40th anniversary coverage "Goals for Black America Not Met." The article raised some ire when quoting Robert Rector of Heritage Foundation: "Rector says the report ignores a major cause of poverty: single-parent homes. He says 70% of black children do not have a father in the home." That sentiment earned this response from Elliott Currie, a member of the Kerner Commission, 40th Anniversary Task Force: "The implication is that it's the heedless behavior of black men — rather than the strains of a blighted economy and a legacy of discrimination — that is responsible for the continuing crisis of poverty and racial disadvantage 40 years after the Kerner Commission."
Bill Moyers talked with Fred Harris who now teaches politics at the University of New Mexico and is one of the last living members of the original Kerner Commission.
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