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Revisiting the powerful thesis of the Kerner Commission

In 1968, the Kerner Commission wrote, "white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto." Into America examines how a moderate political group reached this radical conclusion.

About this episode:

In the 1960s, America burned. Black communities’ frustration against racist policies, economic isolation, and police brutality spilled into the streets in cities across the country. Hundreds were killed, many by police, and cities like Newark and Los Angeles were left with tens of millions of dollars in property damages.

In 1967, shortly after the uprising in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the creation of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, to investigate the causes of the protests. It would become known as the Kerner Commission, for its chair, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois.

The panel was mostly white, and all men. But what the commission ultimately found was damning. The Kerner Commission Report, published in 1968, found that white America was responsible for the structural and societal failings that led to the uprisings, famously declaring “white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it. And white society condones it.”

These words, written over 50 years ago, are still relevant today. To some, the words may even seem radical.

That’s why New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb decided to edit and publish a new version of the findings, called “The Essential Kerner Commission Report.” Trymaine Lee sat down with Jelani at a special New York Public Library event to talk about the re-released report, the discarded recommendations, and why the report is crucial to understanding America today.

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Find the transcript here.

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