President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer since 1964 and to provide recommendations for the future. The Commission's 1968 report, nicknamed "The Kerner Commission" because it was lead by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, concluded that the nation was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal." Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a "system of apartheid" in its major cities.
The Kerner report delivered an indictment of "white society" for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums--primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing. Johnson apparently believed these riots were planned by outside agitators and he hoped that the commission would confirm that. Instead, the Kerner report concluded that racism and economic inequality spurred the riots.
"White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto," the 1968 report said. The Kerner report was the nation's first comprehensive look at race issues in the United States, and it was the federal government's first official document that said racism existed and was a problem.
President Johnson, however, rejected the recommendations. In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
President Johnson was looking to answer three basic questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again? To respond to these questions, the Commission undertook a broad range of studies and investigations. They visited the riot cities; heard many witnesses; and sought the counsel of experts across the country. This is their basic conclusion: "Our nation is moving...