(1967) National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Report)

President Lyndon Johnson with National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders members, White House, Washington, D.C.
President Lyndon Johnson with National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders members, White House, Washington, D.C.
Courtesy Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ds-08051)




The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.

The worst came during a two-week period in July, first in Newark and then in Detroit. Each set off a chain reaction in neighboring communities.

On July 28, 1967, the President of the United States estab­lished this Commission and directed us 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, we have undertaken a broad range of studies and investigations. We have visited the riot cities; we have heard many witnesses; we have sought the counsel of experts across the country. .

This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.

Reaction to last summer’s disorders has quickened the move­ment and deepened the division. Discrimination and segrega­tion have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.

This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The move­ment apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.

To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.

The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.

This alternative will require a commitment to national action–compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if necessary, new taxes enacted.

Violence cannot build a better society. Disruption and dis­order nourish repression, not justice. They strike at the free­dom of every citizen. The community cannot–it will not–­tolerate coercion and mob rule.

Violence and destruction must be ended–in the streets of the ghetto and in the lives of people.

Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.

What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget–is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.

Our recommendations embrace three basic principles:

* To mount programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems:

* To aim these programs for high impact in the immediate future in order to close the gap between promise and performance;

* To undertake new initiatives and experiments that can change the system of failure and frustration that now dominates the ghetto and weakens our society.

These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance, but they neither probe deeper nor demand more than the problems which called them forth. There can be no higher priority for national action and no higher claim on the nation’s conscience.

We issue this Report now, four months before the date called for by the President. Much remains that can be learned. Con­tinued study is essential.

As Commissioners we have worked together with a sense of the greatest urgency and have sought to compose whatever differences exist among us. Some differences remain. But the gravity of the problem and the pressing need for action are too clear to allow further delay in the issuance of this Report.



Chapter I–Profiles of Disorder

The report contains profiles of a selection of the disorders that took place during the summer of 1967. These profiles are designed to indicate how the disorders happened, who par­ticipated in them, and how local officials, police forces, and the National Guard responded. Illustrative excerpts follow:



. . . It was decided to attempt to channel the energies of the people into a nonviolent protest. While Lofton promised the crowd that a full investigation would be made of the Smith incident, the other Negro leaders began urging those on the scene to form a line of march toward the city hall.

Some persons joined the line of march. Others milled about in the narrow street. From the dark grounds of the housing project came a barrage of rocks. Some of them fell among the crowd. Others hit persons in the line of march. Many smashed the windows of the police station. The rock throwing, it was believed, was the work of youngsters; approximately 2,500 chil­dren lived in the housing project.

Almost at the same time, an old car was set afire in a parking lot. The line of march began to disintegrate. The police, their heads protected by World War I-type helmets, sallied forth to disperse the crowd. A fire engine, arriving on the scene, was pelted with rocks. As police drove people away from the station, they scattered in all directions.

A few minutes later a nearby liquor store was broken into. Some persons, seeing a caravan of cabs appear at city hall to protest Smith’s arrest, interpreted this as evidence that the dis­turbance had been organized, and generated rumors to that effect. However, only a few stores were looted. Within a short period of time, the disorder appeared to have run its course.


* *

. . . On Saturday, July 15, [Director of Police Dominick] Spina received a report of snipers in a housing project. When he arrived he saw approximately 100 National Guardsmen and police offi­cers crouching behind vehicles, hiding in corners and lying on the ground around the edge of the courtyard.

Since everything appeared quiet and it was broad daylight, Spina walked directly down the middle of the street. Nothing happened. As he came to the last building of the complex, he heard a shot. All around him the troopers jumped, believing themselves to be under sniper fire. A moment later a young Guardsman ran from behind a building.

The Director of Police went over and asked him if he had fired the shot. The soldier said yes, he had fired to scare a man away from a window; that his orders were to keep everyone away from windows.

Spina said he told the soldier: “Do you know what you just did? You have now created a state of hysteria. Every Guardsman up and down this street and every state policeman and every city policeman that is present thinks that somebody just fired a shot and that it is probably a sniper.”

A short time later more “gunshots” were heard. Investigating, Spina came upon a Puerto Rican sitting on a wall. In reply to a question as to whether he knew “where the firing is coming from?” the man said:

“That’s no firing. That’s fireworks. If you look up to the fourth floor, you will see the people who are throwing down these cherry bombs.”

By this time four truckloads of National Guardsmen had arrived and troopers and policemen were again crouched every­where looking for a sniper. The Director of Police remained at the scene for three hours, and the only shot fired was the one by the Guardsman.

Nevertheless, at six o’clock that evening two columns of National Guardsmen and state troopers were directing mass fire at the Hayes Housing Project in response to what they believed were snipers. . . .



. . . A spirit of carefree nihilism was taking hold. To riot and destroy appeared more and more to become ends in them­selves. Late Sunday afternoon it appeared to one observer that the young people were “dancing amidst the flames.”

A Negro plainclothes officer was standing at an intersection when a man threw a Molotov cocktail into a business establish­ment at the corner… In the heat of the afternoon, fanned by the 20 to 25 m.p.h. winds of both Sunday and Monday, the fire reached the home next door within minutes. As residents use­lessly sprayed the flames with garden hoses, the fire jumped from roof to roof of adjacent two- and three-story buildings. Within the hour the entire block was in flames. The ninth house in the burning row belonged to the arsonist who had thrown the Molotov cocktail. . . .


* *

. . . Employed as a private guard, 55-year-old Julius L. Dor­sey, a Negro, was standing in front of a market when accosted by two Negro men and a woman. They demanded he permit them to loot the market. He ignored their demands. They began to berate him. He asked a neighbor to call the police. As the argument grew more heated, Dorsey fired three shots from his pistol into the air.

The police radio reported: “Looters, they have rifles.” A patrol car driven by a police officer and carrying three National Guards­men arrived. As the looters fled, the law enforcement personnel opened fire. When the firing ceased, one person lay dead.

He was Julius L. Dorsey. . .


* *

. . . As the riot alternately waxed and waned, one area of the ghetto remained insulated. On the northeast side the residents of some 150 square blocks inhabited by 21,000 persons had, in 1966, banded together in the Positive Neighborhood Action Committee (PNAC). With professional help from the Institute of Urban Dynamics, they had organized block clubs and made plans for the improvement of the neighborhood. . . .

When the riot broke out, the residents, through the block clubs, were able to organize quickly. Youngsters, agreeing to stay in the neighborhood, participated in detouring traffic. While many per­sons reportedly sympathized with the idea of a rebellion against the “system,” only two small fires were set–one in an empty building.


* *

. . . According to Lt. Gen. Throckmorton and Col. Bolling, the city, at this time, was saturated with fear. The National Guardsmen were afraid, the residents were afraid, and the police were afraid. Numerous persons, the majority of them Negroes, were being injured by gunshots of undetermined origin. The gen­eral and his staff felt that the major task of the troops was to reduce the fear and restore an air of normalcy.

In order to accomplish this, every effort was made to establish contact and rapport between the troops and the residents. The soldiers–20 percent of whom were Negro–began helping to clean up the streets, collect garbage, and trace persons who had disappeared in the confusion. Residents in the neighborhoods re­sponded with soup and sandwiches for the troops. In areas where the National Guard tried to establish rapport with the citizens, there was a smaller response.



. . . A short time later, elements of the crowd–an older and rougher one than the night before–appeared in front of the police station. The participants wanted to see the mayor.

Mayor [Patricia] Sheehan went out onto the steps of the station. Using a bullhorn, she talked to the people and asked that she be given an opportunity to correct conditions. The crowd was boisterous. Some persons challenged the mayor. But, finally, the opinion, “She’s new! Give her a chance!” prevailed.

A demand was issued by people in the crowd that all persons arrested the previous night be released. Told that this already had been done, the people were suspicious. They asked to be allowed to inspect the jail cells.

It was agreed to permit representatives of the people to look in the cells to satisfy themselves that everyone had been released.

The crowd dispersed. The New Brunswick riot had failed to materialize. .


Chapter 2–Patterns of Disorder

The “typical” riot did not take place. The disorders of 1967 were unusual, irregular, complex and unpredictable social processes. Like most human events, they did not unfold in an orderly sequence. However, an analysis of our survey information leads to some conclusions about the riot process. In general:

* The civil disorders of 1967 involved Negroes acting against local symbols of white American society, authority and property in Negro neighborhoods–rather than against white persons.

* Of 164 disorders reported during the first nine months of 1967, eight (5 percent) were major in terms of violence and damage; 33 (20 percent) were serious but not major; 123 (75 percent) were minor and undoubtedly would not have received national attention as “riots” had the nation not been sensitized by the more serious outbreaks.

* In the 75 disorders studied by a Senate subcommittee, 83 deaths were reported. Eighty-two percent of the deaths and more than half the injuries occurred in Newark and Detroit. About 10 per­cent of the dead and 38 percent of the injured were public em­ployees, primarily law officers and firemen. The overwhelming majority of the persons killed or injured in all the disorders were Negro civilians.

* Initial damage estimates were greatly exaggerated. In Detroit, newspaper damage estimates at first ranged from $200 million to $500 million; the highest recent estimate is $45 million. In Newark, early estimates ranged from $15 to $25 million. A month later damage was estimated at $10.2 million, over 80 per­cent in inventory losses.

In the 24 disorders in 23 cities which we surveyed:

* The final incident before the outbreak of disorder, and the initial violence itself, generally took place in the evening or at night at a place in which it was normal for many people to be on the streets.

* Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the oc­currence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night. The night-day cycles con­tinued through the early period of the major disorders.

* Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and win­dow breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed.

* Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single “triggering” or “precipitating” incident. Instead, it was generated out of an in­creasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident-in itself often routine or trivial-became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence.

* “Prior” incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police ac­tions were “final” incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.

* No particular control tactic was successful in every situation. The varied effectiveness of control techniques emphasizes the need for advance training, planning, adequate intelligence systems, and knowledge of the ghetto community.

* Negotiations between Negroes–including your militants as well as older Negro leaders–and white officials concerning “terms of peace” occurred during virtually all the disorders surveyed. In many cases, these negotiations involved discussion of underlying grievances as well as the handling of the disorder by control authorities.

* The typical rioter was a teenager or young adult, a lifelong resi­dent of the city in which he rioted, a high school dropout; he was, nevertheless, somewhat better educated than his nonrioting Negro neighbor, and was usually underemployed or employed in a menial job. He was proud of his race, extremely hostile to both whites and middle-class Negroes and, although informed about politics, highly distrustful of the political system.

* A Detroit survey revealed that approximately 11 percent of the total residents of two riot areas admitted participation in the riot­ing, 20 to 25 percent identified themselves as “bystanders,” over 16 percent identified themselves as “counter-rioters” who urged rioters to “cool it,” and the remaining 48 to 53 percent said they were at home or elsewhere and did not participate. In a survey of Negro males between the ages of 15 and 35 residing in the dis­turbance area in Newark, about 45 percent identified themselves as rioters, and about 55 percent as “noninvolved.”

* Most rioters were young Negro males. Nearly 53 percent of arrestees were between 15 and 24 years of age; nearly 81 per­cent between 15 and 35.

* In Detroit and Newark about 74 percent of the rioters were brought up in the North. In contrast, of the noninvolved, 36 percent in Detroit and 52 percent in Newark were brought up in the North.

* What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participa­tion in the social order and the material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens. Rather than rejecting the Ameri­can system, they were anxious to obtain a place for themselves in it.

* Numerous Negro counter-rioters walked the streets urging rioters to “cool it.” The typical counter-rioter was better educated and had higher income than either the rioter or the noninvolved.

* The proportion of Negroes in local government was substantially smaller than the Negro proportion of population. Only three of the 20 cities studied had more than one Negro legislator; none had ever had a Negro mayor or city manager. In only four cities did Negroes hold other important policy-making positions or serve as heads of municipal departments.

* Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.

* Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity: ‘


First Level of Intensity

1. Police practices

2. Unemployment and underemployment

3. Inadequate housing


Second Level of Intensity

4. Inadequate education

5. Poor recreation facilities and programs

6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms


Third Level of Intensity

7. Disrespectful white attitudes

8. Discriminatory administration of justice

9. Inadequacy of federal programs

10. Inadequacy of municipal services

11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices

12. Inadequate welfare programs


* The results of a three-city survey of various federal programs–­manpower, education, housing, welfare and community action–­indicate that, despite substantial expenditures, the number of persons assisted constituted only a fraction of those in need.

The background of disorder is often as complex and difficult to analyze as the disorder itself. But we find that certain general conclusions can be drawn:

* Social and economic conditions in the riot cities constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Negroes compared with whites, whether the Negroes lived in the area where the riot took place or outside it. Negroes had completed fewer years of education and fewer had attended high school. Negroes were twice as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to be in unskilled and service jobs. Negroes averaged 70 percent of the income earned by whites and were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty. Although housing cost Negroes relatively more, they had worse housing-three times as likely to be overcrowded and substandard. When compared to white suburbs, the relative disadvantage is even more pronounced.

A study of the aftermath of disorder leads to disturbing conclusions. We find that, despite the institution of some post­riot programs:

* Little basic change in the conditions underlying the outbreak of disorder has taken place. Actions to ameliorate Negro grievances have been limited and sporadic; with but few exceptions, they have not significantly reduced tensions.

* In several cities, the principal official response has been to train and equip the police with more sophisticated weapons. In several cities, increasing polarization is evident, with con­tinuing breakdown of inter-racial communication, and growth of white segregationist or black separatist groups.


Chapter 3–Organized Activity

The President directed the Commission to investigate “to, what extent, if any, there has been planning or organization in any of the riots.”

To carry out this part of the President’s charge, the Com­mission established a special investigative staff supplementing the field teams that made the general examination of the riots in 23 cities. The unit examined data collected by federal agencies and congressional committees, including thousands of documents supplied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, gathered and evaluated information from local and state law enforcement agencies and officials, and conducted its own field investigation in selected cities.

On the basis of all the information collected, the Commission concludes that:

The urban disorders of the summer of 1967 were not caused by, nor were they the consequence of, any organized plan or “conspiracy.”

Specifically, the Commission has found no evidence that all or any of the disorders or the incidents that led to them were planned or directed by any organization or group, interna­tional, national or local.

Militant organizations, local and national, and individual agitators, who repeatedly forecast and called for violence, were active in the spring and summer of 1967. We believe that they sought to encourage violence, and that they helped to create an atmosphere that contributed to the outbreak of disorder.

We recognize that the continuation of disorders and the polarization of the races would provide fertile ground for organized exploitation in the future.

Investigations of organized activity are continuing at all levels of government, including committees of Congress. These investigations relate not only to the disorders of 1967 but also to the actions of groups and individuals, particularly in schools and colleges, during this last fall and winter. The Commission has cooperated in these investigations. They should continue.



Chapter 4–The Basic Causes

In addressing the question “Why did it happen?” we shift our focus from the local to the national scene, from the par­ticular events of the summer of 1967 to the factors within the society at large that created a mood of violence among many urban Negroes.

These factors are complex and interacting; they vary sig­nificantly in their effect from city to city and from year to year; and the consequences of one disorder, generating new grievances and new demands, become the causes of the next. Thus was created the “thicket of tension, conflicting evidence and extreme opinions” cited by the President.

Despite these complexities, certain fundamental matters are clear. Of these, the most fundamental is the racial attitude and behavior of white Americans toward black Americans.

Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future.

White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II. Among the ingredients of this mixture are:


* Pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, educa­tion and housing, which have resulted in the continuing exclu­sion of great numbers of Negroes from the benefits of economic progress.

* Black in-migration and white exodus, .which have produced the massive and growing concentrations of impoverished Negroes in our major cities, creating a growing crisis of deteriorating facilities and services and unmet human needs.

* The black ghettos where segregation and poverty converge on the young to destroy opportunity and enforce failure. Crime, drug addiction, dependency on welfare, and bitterness and resent­ment against society in general and white society in particular are the result.


At the same time, most whites and some Negroes outside the ghetto have prospered to a degree unparalleled in the his­tory of civilization. Through television and other media, this affluence has been flaunted before the eyes of the Negro poor and the jobless ghetto youth.

Yet these facts alone cannot be said to have caused the disorders. Recently, other powerful ingredients have begun to catalyze the mixture:

* Frustrated hopes are the residue of the unfulfilled expectations aroused by the great judicial and legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement and the dramatic struggle for equal rights in the South.

* A climate that tends toward approval and encouragement of violence as a form of protest has been created by white terrorism directed against nonviolent protest; by the open defiance of law and federal authority by state and local officials resisting desegregation; and by some protest groups engaging in civil disobedience who turn their backs on nonviolence, go beyond the constitu­tionally protected rights of petition and free assembly, and resort to violence to attempt to compel alteration of laws and policies with which they disagree.

* The frustrations of powerlessness have led some Negroes to the conviction that there is no effective alternative to violence as a means of achieving redress of grievances, and of “moving the system.” These frustrations are reflected in alienation and hos­tility toward the institutions of law and government and the white society which controls them, and in the reach toward racial consciousness and solidarity reflected in the slogan “Black Power.”

* A new mood has sprung up among Negroes, particularly among the young, in which self-esteem and enhanced racial pride are replacing apathy and submission to “the system.”

* The police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection–one for Negroes and one for whites.


To this point, we have attempted to identify the prime components of the “explosive mixture.” In the chapters that follow we seek to analyze them in the perspective of history. Their meaning, however, is clear:

In the summer of 1967, we have seen in our cities a chain reaction of racial violence. If we are heedless, none of us shall escape the consequences.


Chapter 5–Rejection and Protest: An Historical Sketch

The causes of recent racial disorders are embedded in a tangle of issues and circumstances–social, economic, political and psychological which arise out of the historic pattern of Negro-white relations in America.

In this chapter we trace the pattern, identify the recurrent themes of Negro protest and, most importantly, provide a perspective on the protest activities of the present era.

We describe the Negro’s experience in America and the development of slavery as an institution. We show his per­sistent striving for equality in the face of rigidly maintained social, economic and educational barriers, and repeated mob violence. We portray the ebb and flow of the doctrinal tides–­accommodation, separatism, and self-help–and their relation­ship to the current theme of Black Power. We conclude:


The Black Power advocates of today consciously feel that they are the most militant group in the Negro protest movement. Yet they have retreated from a direct confrontation with American society on the issue of integration and, by preaching separatism, unconsciously function as an accommodation to white racism. Much of their economic program, as well as their interest in Ne­gro history, self-help, racial solidarity and separation, is reminis­cent of Booker T. Washington. The rhetoric is different, but the ideas are remarkably similar.


Chapter 6–The Formation Of the Racial Ghettos[1]

Throughout the 20th century the Negro population of the United States has been moving steadily from rural areas to urban and from South to North and West. In 1910, 91 percent of the nation’s 9.8 million Negroes lived in the South and only 27 percent of American Negroes lived in cities of 2,500 persons or more. Between 1910 and 1966 the total Negro population more than doubled, reaching 21.5 million, and the number living in metropolitan areas rose more than five­fold (from 2.6 million to 14.8 million). The number outside the South rose eleven-fold (from 880,000 to 9.7 million).

Negro migration from the South has resulted from the expectation of thousands of new and highly paid jobs for unskilled workers in the North and the shift to mechanized farming in the South. However, the Negro migration is small when compared to earlier waves of European immigrants. Even between 1960 and 1966, there were 1.8 million immi­grants from abroad compared to the 613,000 Negroes who arrived in the North and West from the South.

As a result of the growing number of Negroes in urban areas, natural increase has replaced migration as the primary source of Negro population increase in the cities. Nevertheless, Negro migration from the South will continue unless economic conditions there change dramatically.

Basic data concerning Negro urbanization trends indicate that:


* Almost all Negro population growth (98 percent from 1950 to 1966) is occurring within metropolitan areas, primarily within central cities.[2] .

* The vast majority of white population growth (78 percent from 1960 to 1966) is occurring in suburban portions of metropolitan areas. Since 1960, white central-city population has declined by 1.3 million.

* As a result, central cities are becoming more heavily Negro while the suburban fringes around them remain almost entirely white.

* The twelve largest central cities now contain over two-thirds of the Negro population outside the South, and one-third of the Negro total in the United States.


Within the cities, Negroes have been excluded from white residential areas through discriminatory practices. Just as sig­nificant is the withdrawal of white families from, or their refusal to enter, neighborhoods where Negroes are moving or already residing. About 20 percent of the urban population of the United States changes residence every year. The refusal of whites to move into “changing” areas when vacancies occur means that most vacancies eventually are occupied by Negroes.

The result, according to a recent study, is that in 1960 the average segregation index for 207 of the largest United States cities was 86.2. In other words, to create an unsegregated population distribution, an average of over 86 percent of all Negroes would have to change their place of residence within the city.


Chapter 7—Unemployment, Family Structure, and Social Disorganization

Although there have been gains in Negro income nationally, and a decline in the number of Negroes below the “poverty level,” the condition of Negroes ill the central city remains in a state of crisis. Between 2 and 2.5 million Negroes-16 to 20 percent of the total Negro population of all central cities­ live in squalor and deprivation in ghetto neighborhoods.

Employment is a key problem. It not only controls the present for the Negro American but, in a most profound way, it is creating the future as well. Yet, despite continuing eco­nomic growth and declining national unemployment rates, the unemployment rate for Negroes in 1967 was more than double that for whites. .

Equally important is the undesirable nature of many jobs open to Negroes and other minorities. Negro men are more than three times as likely as white men to be in low paying, unskilled or service jobs. This concentration of male Negro employment at the lowest end of the occupational scale is the single most important cause of poverty among Negroes.

In one study of low-income neighborhoods, the “subemployment rate,” including both unemployment and underemploy­ment, was about 33 percent, or 8.8 times greater than the overall unemployment rate for all United States workers.

Employment problems, aggravated by the constant arrival of new unemployed migrants, many of them from depressed rural areas, create persistent poverty in the ghetto. In 1966, about 11.9 percent of the nation’s whites and 40.6 percent of its nonwhites were below the “poverty level” defined by’ the Social Security Administration (currently $3,335 per year for an urban family of four). Over 40 percent of the nonwhites below the poverty level live in the central cities.

Employment problems have drastic social impact in the ghetto. Men who are chronically unemployed or employed in the lowest status jobs are often unable or unwilling to remain with their families. The handicap imposed on children grow­ing up without fathers in an atmosphere of poverty and de­privation is increased as mothers are forced to work to provide support. .

The culture of poverty that results from unemployment and family breakup generates a system of ruthless, exploitative relationships within the ghetto. Prostitution, dope addiction, and crime create an environmental “jungle” characterized by personal insecurity and tension. Children growing up under such conditions are likely participants in civil disorder.

Chapter 8–Conditions of Life In the Racial Ghetto


A striking difference in environment from that of white, middle-class Americans profoundly influences the lives of resi­dents of the ghetto.

Crime rates, consistently higher than in other areas, create a pronounced sense of insecurity. For example, in one city one low-income Negro district had 35 times as many serious crimes against persons as a high-income white district. Unless drastic steps are taken, the crime problems in poverty areas are likely to continue to multiply as the growing youth and rapid urbanization of the population outstrip police resources.

Poor health and sanitation conditions in the ghetto result in higher mortality rates, a higher incidence of major diseases, and lower availability and utilization of medical services. The infant mortality rate for nonwhite babies under the age of one month is 58 percent higher than for whites; for one to 12 months it is almost three times as high. The level of sanitation in the ghetto is far below that in high income areas. Garbage collection is often inadequate. Of an estimated 14,000 cases of rat bite in the United States in 1965, most were in ghetto neighborhoods.

Ghetto residents believe they are “exploited” by local mer­chants; and evidence substantiates some of these beliefs. A study conducted in one city by the Federal Trade Commission showed that distinctly higher prices were charged for goods sold in ghetto stores than in other areas.

Lack of knowledge regarding credit purchasing creates spe­cial pitfalls for the disadvantaged. In many states garnishment practices compound these difficulties by allowing creditors to deprive individuals of their wages without hearing or trial.


Chapter 9–Comparing the Immigrant and Negro Experience

In this chapter, we address ourselves to a fundamental ques­tion that many white Americans are asking: why have so many Negroes, unlike the European immigrants, been unable to escape from the ghetto and from poverty. We believe the fol­lowing factors play a part:


* The Maturing Economy: When the European immigrants arrived, they gained an economic foothold by providing the unskilled labor needed by industry. Unlike the immigrant, the Negro migrant found little opportunity in the city. The economy, by then ma­tured, had little use for the unskilled labor he had to offer.

*The Disability of Race: The structure of discrimination has strin­gently narrowed opportunities for the Negro and restricted his prospects. European immigrants suffered from discrimination, but never so pervasively. .

* Entry into the Political System: The immigrants usually settled in rapidly growing cities with powerful and expanding political machines, which traded economic advantages for political sup­port. Ward-level grievance machinery, as well as personal repre­sentation, enabled the immigrant to make his voice heard and his power felt.

By the time the Negro arrived, these political machines were no longer so powerful or so well equipped to provide jobs or other favors, and in many cases were unwilling to share their in­fluence with Negroes.

* Cultural Factors: Coming from societies with a low standard of living and at a time when job aspirations were low, the immigrants sensed little deprivation in being forced to take the less desirable and poorer-paying jobs. Their large and cohesive families con­tributed to total income. Their vision of the future–one that led to a life outside of the ghetto–provided the incentive neces­sary to endure the present.

Although Negro men worked as hard as the immigrants, they were unable to support their families. The entrepreneurial op­portunities had vanished. As a result of slavery and long periods of unemployment, the Negro family structure had become ma­triarchal; the males played a secondary and marginal family role–one which offered little compensation for their hard and un­rewarding labor. Above all, segregation denied Negroes access to good jobs and the opportunity to leave the ghetto. For them, the future seemed to lead only to a dead end.


Today, whites tend to exaggerate how well and quickly they escaped from poverty. The fact is that immigrants who came from rural backgrounds, as many Negroes do, are only now, after three generations, finally beginning to move into the middle class.

By contrast, Negroes began concentrating in the city less than two generations ago, and under much less favorable con­ditions. Although some Negroes have escaped poverty, few have been able to escape the urban ghetto.



Chapter 10–The Community Response


Our investigation of the 1967 riot cities establishes that virtually every major episode of violence was foreshadowed by an accumulation of unresolved grievances and by wide­spread dissatisfaction among Negroes with the unwillingness or inability of local government to respond.

Overcoming these conditions is essential for community support of law enforcement and civil order. City governments need new and more vital channels of communication to the residents of the ghetto; they need to improve their capacity to respond effectively to community needs before they become community grievances; and they need to provide opportunity for, meaningful involvement of ghetto residents in shaping policies and programs which affect the community.


The Commission recommends that local governments:


* Develop Neighborhood Action Task Forces as joint community ­government efforts through which more effective communication can be achieved, and the delivery of city services to ghetto residents improved.

* Establish comprehensive grievance-response mechanisms in order to bring all public agencies under public scrutiny.

* Bring the institutions of local government closer to the people they serve by establishing neighborhood outlets for local, state and federal administrative and public service agencies.

* Expand opportunities for ghetto residents to participate in the formulation of public policy and the implementation of programs affecting them through improved political representation, creation of institutional channels for community action, expansion of legal services, and legislative hearings on ghetto problems.


In this effort, city governments will require state and federal support.

The Commission recommends:


* State and federal financial assistance for mayors and city councils to support the research, consultants, staff and other resources needed to respond effectively to federal program initiatives.

* State cooperation in providing municipalities with the jurisdic­tional tools needed to deal with their problems; a fuller measure of financial aid to urban areas; and the focusing of the interests of suburban communities on the physical, social and cultural environment of the central city.


Chapter 11–Police and the Community

The abrasive relationship between the police and the minor­ity communities has been a major-and explosive-source of grievance, tension and disorder. The blame must be shared by the total society.

The police are faced with demands for increased protection and service in the ghetto. Yet the aggressive patrol practices thought necessary to meet these demands themselves create tension and hostility. The resulting grievances have been further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanisms for handling complaints against the police. Special programs for bettering police-community relations have been instituted, but these alone are not enough. Police administrators, with the guidance of public officials, and the support of the entire com­munity, must take vigorous action to improve law enforce­ment arid to decrease the potential for disorder.

The Commission recommends that city government and police authorities:


* Review police operations in the ghetto to ensure proper conduct by police officers, and eliminate abrasive practices.

* Provide more adequate police protection to ghetto residents to eliminate their high sense of insecurity, and the belief of many Negro citizens in the existence of a dual standard of law enforce­ment.’

* Establish fair and effective mechanisms for the redress of grievances against the police, and other municipal employees.

* Develop and adopt policy guidelines to assist officers in making critical decisions in areas where police conduct can create tension.

* Develop and use innovative programs to ensure widespread community support for law enforcement.

* Recruit more Negroes into the regular police force, and review promotion policies to ensure fair promotion for Negro officers.

* Establish a “Community Service Officer” program to attract ghetto youths between the ages of 17 and 21 to police work. These junior officers would perform duties in ghetto neighbor­hoods, but would not have full police authority. The federal government should provide support equal to 90 percent of the costs of employing CSOs on the basis of one for every ten regular officers.


Chapter 12–Control of Disorder

Preserving civil peace is the first responsibility of govern­ment. Unless the rule of law prevails, our society will lack not only order but also the environment essential to social and economic progress.

The maintenance of civil order cannot be left to the police alone. The police need guidance, as well as support, from mayors and other public officials. It is the responsibility of public officials to determine proper police policies, support adequate police standards for personnel and performance, and participate in planning for the control of disorders.

To maintain control of incidents which could lead to disorders, the Commission recommends that local officials:


* Assign seasoned, well-trained policemen and supervisory officers to patrol ghetto areas, and to respond to disturbances.

* Develop plans which will quickly muster maximum police man­ power and highly qualified senior commanders at the outbreak of disorders.

* Provide special training in the prevention of disorders, and pre­pare police for riot control and for operation in units, with adequate command and control and field communication for proper discipline and effectiveness

* Develop guidelines governing the use of control equipment and provide alternatives to the use of lethal weapons. Federal sup­port for research in this area is needed.

* Establish an intelligence system to provide police and other public officials with reliable information that may help to pre­vent the outbreak of a disorder and to institute effective control measures in the event a riot erupts.

* Develop continuing contacts with ghetto residents to make use of the forces for order which exist within the community.

* Establish machinery for neutralizing rumors, and enabling Negro leaders and residents to obtain the facts. Create special rumor details to collect, evaluate, and dispel rumors that may lead to a civil disorder.


The Commission believes there is a grave danger that some communities may resort to the indiscriminate and excessive use of force. The harmful effects of overreaction are incalcul­able. The Commission condemns moves to equip police depart­ments with mass destruction weapons, such as automatic rifles, machine guns and tanks. Weapons which are designed to de­stroy, not to control, have no place in densely populated urban communities.

The Commission recognizes the sound principle of local authority and responsibility in law enforcement, but recom­mends that the federal government share, in the financing of programs for improvement of police forces, both in their normal law enforcement activities as well as in their response to civil disorders.

To assist government authorities in planning their response to civil disorder, this report contains a Supplement on Control of Disorder. It deals with specific problems encountered during riot-control operations, and includes:


* Assessment of the present capabilities of police, National Guard and Army forces to control major riots, and recommendations for improvement;

* Recommended means by which the control operations of those forces may be coordinated with the response of other agencies, such as fire departments, and with the community at large;

* Recommendations for review and revision of federal, state and local laws needed to provide the framework for control efforts and for the call-up and interrelated action of public safety forces.


Chapter 13–The Administration of Justice Under Emergency Conditions


In many of the cities which experienced disorders last sum­mer, there were recurring breakdowns in the mechanisms for processing, prosecuting and protecting arrested persons. These resulted mainly from long-standing structural deficiencies in criminal court systems, and from the failure of communities to anticipate and plan for the emergency demands of civil disorders.

In part, because of this, there were few successful prosecu­tions for serious crimes committed during the riots. In those cities where mass arrests occurred many arrestees were de­prived of basic legal rights.

The Commission recommends that the cities and states:


* Undertake reform of the lower courts so as to improve the quality of justice rendered under normal conditions.

* Plan comprehensive measures by which the criminal justice sys­tem may be supplemented during civil disorders so that its deliberative functions are protected, and the quality of justice is maintained.


Such emergency plans require broad community participa­tion and dedicated leadership by the bench and bar. They should include:


* Laws sufficient to deter and punish riot conduct.

* Additional judges, bail and probation officers, and clerical staff.

* Arrangements for volunteer lawyers to help prosecutors and to represent riot defendants at every stage of proceedings.

* Policies to ensure proper and individual bail, arraignment, pre­-trial, trial and sentencing proceedings.

* Procedures for processing arrested persons, such as summons and release, and release on personal recognizance, which permit separation of minor offenders from those dangerous to the community, in order that serious offenders may be detained and prosecuted effectively.

* Adequate emergency processing and detention facilities.


Chapter 14–Damages: Repair and Compensation


The Commission recommends that the federal government:


* Amend the Federal Disaster Act-which now applies only to nat­ural disasters–to permit federal emergency food and medical assistance to cities during major civil disorders, and provide long-term economic assistance afterwards.

* With the cooperation of the states, create incentives for the private insurance industry to provide more adequate property-insurance coverage in inner-city areas.

The Commission endorses the report of the National Ad­visory Panel on Insurance in Riot-Affected Areas: “Meeting the Insurance Crisis of our Cities.”


Chapter 15–The News Media and the Disorders

In his charge to the Commission, the President asked: “What effect do the mass media have on the riots?”

The Commission determined that the answer to the Presi­dent’s question did not lie solely in the performance of the press and broadcasters in reporting the riots. Our analysis had to consider also the overall treatment by the media of the Negro ghettos, community relations, racial attitudes, and pov­erty-day by day and month by month, year in and year out. A wide range of interviews with government officials, law enforcement authorities, media personnel and other citizens, including ghetto residents, as well as a quantitative analysis of riot coverage and a special conference with industry rep­resentatives, leads us to conclude that:


* Despite instances of sensationalism, inaccuracy and distortion, newspapers, radio and television tried on the whole to give a balanced, factual account of the 1967 disorders.

* Elements of the news media failed to portray accurately the scale and character of the violence that occurred last summer. The overall effect was, we believe, an exaggeration of both mood and event. .

* Important segments of the media failed to report adequately on the causes and consequences of civil disorders and on the under­lying problems of race relations. They have not communicated to the majority of their audience–which is white—a sense of the degradation, misery and hopelessness of life in the ghetto.


These failings must be corrected, and the improvement must come from within the industry. Freedom of the press is not the issue. Any effort to impose governmental restrictions would be inconsistent with fundamental constitutional precepts.

We have seen evidence that the news media are becoming aware of and concerned about their performance in this field. As that concern grows, coverage will improve. But much more must be done, and it must be done soon.

The Commission recommends that the media:


* Expand coverage of the Negro community and of race problems through permanent assignment of reporters familiar with urban and racial affairs, and through establishment of more and better links with the Negro community.

* Integrate Negroes and Negro activities into all aspects of cov­erage and content, including newspaper articles and television programming. The news media must publish newspapers and produce programs that recognize the existence and activities of Negroes as a group within the community and as a part of the larger community.

* Recruit more Negroes into journalism and broadcasting and promote those who are qualified to positions of significant re­sponsibility. Recruitment should begin in high schools and con­tinue through college; where necessary, aid for training should be provided.

* Improve coordination with police in reporting riot news through advance planning, and cooperate with the police in the designa­tion of police information officers, establishment of information centers, and development of mutually acceptable guidelines for riot reporting and the conduct of media personnel.

* Accelerate efforts to ensure accurate and responsible reporting of pot and racial news, through adoption by all news gathering organizations of stringent internal staff guidelines.

* Cooperate in the establishment of a privately organized and funded Institute of Urban Communications to train and educate journalists in urban affairs, recruit and train more Negro jour­nalists, develop methods for improving police-press relations, re­view coverage of riots and racial issues, and support continuing research in the urban field. .


Chapter 16–The Future of the Cities


By 1985, the Negro population in central cities is expected to increase by 72 percent to approximately 20.8 million. Coupled with the continued exodus of white families to the suburbs, this growth will produce majority Negro populations in many of the nation’s largest cities.

The future of these cities, and of their burgeoning Negro populations, is grim. Most new employment opportunities are being created in suburbs and outlying areas. This trend will continue unless important changes in public policy are made.

In prospect, therefore, is further deterioration of already inadequate municipal tax bases in the face of increasing de­mands for public services, and continuing unemployment and poverty among the urban Negro population:

Three choices are open to the nation:

* We can maintain present policies, continuing both the proportion of the nation’s resources now allocated to programs for the un­employed and the disadvantaged, and the inadequate and failing effort to achieve an integrated society.

* We can adopt a policy of “enrichment” aimed at improving dra­matically the quality of ghetto life while abandoning integration as a goal.

* We can pursue integration by combining ghetto “enrichment” with policies which will encourage Negro movement out of cen­tral city areas.


The first choice, continuance of present policies, has omi­nous consequences for our society. The share of the nation’s resources now allocated to programs for the disadvantaged is insufficient to arrest the deterioration of life in central city ghettos. Under such conditions, a rising proportion of Negroes may come to see in the deprivation and segregation they experience, a justification for violent protest, or for extending support to now isolated extremists who advocate civil disrup­tion. Large-scale and continuing violence could result, followed by white retaliation, and, ultimately, the separation of the two communities in a garrison state.

Even if violence does not occur, the consequences are un­acceptable. Development of a racially integrated society, extraordinarily difficult today, will be virtually impossible when the present black ghetto population of 12.5 million has grown to almost 21 million.

To continue present policies is to make permanent the divi­sion of our country into two societies; one, largely Negro and poor, located in the central cities; the other, predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and in outlying areas.

The second choice, ghetto enrichment coupled with aban­donment of integration, is also unacceptable. It is another way of choosing a permanently divided country. Moreover, equality cannot be achieved under conditions of nearly complete sepa­ration. In a country where the economy, and particularly the resources of employment, are predominantly white, a policy of separation can only relegate Negroes to a permanently in­ferior economic status.

We believe that the only possible choice for America is the third-a policy which combines ghetto enrichment with pro­grams designed to encourage integration of substantial num­bers of Negroes into the society outside the ghetto.

Enrichment must be an important adjunct to integration, for no matter how ambitious or energetic the program, few Negroes now living in central cities can be quickly integrated. In the meantime, large-scale improvement in the quality of ghetto life is essential.

In the meantime, large-scale improvement in the quality of ghetto life is essential.

But this can be no more than an interim strategy. Programs must be developed which will permit substantial Negro move­ment out of the ghettos. The primary goal must be a single society, in which every citizen will be free to live and work according to his capabilities and desires, not his color.



Chapter 17–Recommendations For National Action




No American-white or black-can escape the conse­quences of the continuing social and economic decay of our major cities.

Only a commitment to national action on an unprecedented scale can shape a future compatible with the historic ideals of American society.

The great productivity of our economy, and a federal reve­nue system which is highly responsive to economic growth, can provide the resources.

The major need is to generate new will–the will to tax ourselves to the extent necessary, to meet the vital needs of the nation.

We have set forth goals and proposed strategies to reach those goals. We discuss and recommend programs not to com­mit each of us to specific parts of such programs but to illustrate the type and dimension of action needed.

The major goal is the creation of a true union–a single society and a single American identity. Toward that goal, we propose the following objectives for national action:


* Opening up opportunities to those who are restricted by racial segregation and discrimination, and eliminating all barriers to their choice of jobs, education and housing.

* Removing the frustration of powerlessness among the disadvan­taged by providing the means for them to deal with the prob­lems that affect their own lives and by increasing the capacity of our public and private institutions to respond to these problems.

* Increasing communication across racial lines to destroy stereo­types, to halt polarization, end distrust and hostility, and create common ground for efforts toward public order and social justice.


We propose these aims to fulfill our pledge of equality and to meet the fundamental needs of a democratic and civilized society–domestic peace and social justice.




Pervasive unemployment and underemployment are the most persistent and serious grievances in minority areas. They are inextricably linked to the problem of civil disorder.

Despite growing federal expenditures for manpower devel­opment and training programs, and sustained general economic prosperity and increasing demands for skilled workers, about two million-white and nonwhite-are permanently unem­ployed. About ten million are underemployed, of whom 6.5 million work full time for wages below the poverty line.

The 500,000 “hard-core” unemployed in the central cities who lack a basic education and are unable to hold a steady job are made up in large part of Negro males between the ages of 18 and 25. In the riot cities which we surveyed, Negroes were three times as likely as whites to hold unskilled jobs, which are often part time, seasonal, low-paying and “dead end.”

Negro males between the ages of 15 and 25 predominated among the rioters. More than 20 percent of the rioters were unemployed, and many who were employed held intermittent, low status, unskilled jobs which they regarded as below their education and ability.

The Commission recommends that the federal government:


* Undertake joint efforts with cities and states to consolidate existing manpower programs to avoid fragmentation and dupli­cation.

* Take immediate action to create 2,000,000 new jobs over the next three years–one million in the public sector and one million in the private sector-to absorb the hard-core unem­ployed and materially reduce the level of underemployment for all workers, black and white. We propose 250,000 public sector and 300,000 private sector jobs in the first year.

* Provide on-the-job training by both public and private employers with reimbursement to private employers for the extra costs of training the hard-core unemployed, by contract or by tax credits.

* Provide tax and other incentives to investment in rural as well as urban poverty areas in order to offer to the rural poor an alternative to migration to urban centers.

* Take new and vigorous action to remove artificial barriers to employment and promotion, including not only racial discrimi­nation but, in certain cases, arrest records or lack of a high school diploma. Strengthen those agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with eliminating discriminatory practices, and provide full support for Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act allowing federal grant-in-aid funds to be withheld from activities which discriminate on grounds of color or race.


The Commission commends the recent public commitment of the National Council of the Building and Construction Trades Unions, AFL-CIO, to encourage and recruit Negro membership in apprenticeship programs. This commitment should be intensified and implemented.




Education in a democratic society must equip children to develop their potential and to participate fully in American life. For the community at large, the schools have discharged this responsibility well. But for many minorities, and particu­larly for the children of the ghetto, the schools have failed to provide the educational experience which could overcome the effects of discrimination and deprivation.

This failure is one of the persistent sources of grievance and resentment within the Negro community. The hostility of Negro parents and students toward the school system is generating increasing conflict and causing disruption within many city school districts. But the most dramatic evidence of the relationship between educational practices and civil dis­orders lies in the high incidence of riot participation by ghetto youth who have not completed high school.

The bleak record of public education for ghetto children is growing worse. In the critical skills–verbal and reading ability–Negro students are falling further behind whites with each year of school completed. The high unemployment and un­deremployment rate for Negro youth is evidence, in part, of the growing educational crisis.

We support integration as the priority education strategy; it is essential to the future of American society. In this last summer’s disorders we have seen the consequences of racial isolation at all levels, and of attitudes toward race, on both sides, produced by three centuries of myth, ignorance and bias. It is indispensable that opportunities for interaction between the races be expanded.

We recognize that the growing dominance of pupils from disadvantaged minorities in city school populations will not soon be reversed. No matter how great the effort toward de­segregation, many children of the ghetto will not, within their school careers, attend integrated schools.

If existing disadvantages are not to be perpetuated, we must drastically improve the quality of ghetto education. Equality of results with all-white schools must be the goal.


To implement these strategies, the Commission recommends:


* Sharply increased efforts to eliminate de facto segregation in our schools through substantial federal aid to school systems seeking to desegregate either within the system or in cooperation with neighboring school systems.

* Elimination of racial discrimination in Northern as well as Southern schools by vigorous application of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

* Extension of quality early childhood education to every disad­vantaged child in the country.

* Efforts to improve dramatically schools serving disadvantaged children through substantial federal funding of year-round com­pensatory education programs, improved teaching, and expanded experimentation and research.

* Elimination of illiteracy through greater federal support for adult basic education.

* Enlarged opportunities for parent and community participation in the public schools.

* Reoriented vocational education emphasizing work-experience training and the involvement of business and industry.

* Expanded opportunities for higher education through increased federal assistance to disadvantaged students.

* Revision of state aid formulas to assure more per student aid to districts having a high proportion of disadvantaged school-age children.




Our present system of public welfare is designed to save money instead of people, and tragically ends up doing neither. This system has two critical deficiencies:

First, it excludes large numbers of persons who are in great need, and who, if provided a decent level of support, might be able to become more productive and self-sufficient. No fed­eral funds are available for millions of men and women who are needy but neither aged, handicapped nor the parents of minor children.

Second, for those included, the system provides assistance well below the minimum necessary for a decent level of ex­istence, and imposes restrictions that encourage continued de­pendency on welfare and undermine self-respect.

A welter of statutory requirements and administrative prac­tices and regulations operate to remind recipients that they are considered untrustworthy, promiscuous and lazy. Resi­dence requirements prevent assistance to people in need who are newly arrived in the state. Regular searches of recipients’ homes violate privacy. Inadequate social services compound the problems.

The Commission recommends that the federal government, acting with state and local governments where necessary, re­form the existing welfare system to:


* Establish uniform national standards of assistance at least as high as the annual “poverty level” of income, now set by the Social Security Administration at $3,335 per year for an urban family of four.

* Require that all states receiving federal welfare contributions participate in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children ­Unemployed Parents program (AFDC-UP) that permits assist­ance to families with both father and mother in the home, thus aiding the family while it is still intact.

* Bear a substantially greater portion of all welfare costs-at least 90 percent of total payments.

* Increase incentives for seeking employment and job training, but remove restrictions recently enacted by the Congress that would compel mothers of young children to work.

* Provide more adequate social services through neighborhood centers and family-planning programs.

* Remove the freeze placed by the 1967 welfare amendments on the percentage of children in a state that can be covered by federal assistance.

*Eliminate residence requirements.


As a long-range goal, the Commission recommends that the federal government seek to develop a national system of in­come supplementation based strictly on need with two broad and basic purposes:


* To provide, for those who can work or who do work, any necessary supplements in such a way as to develop incentives for fuller employment;

* To provide, for those who cannot work and for mothers who decide to remain with their children, a minimum standard of decent living, and to aid in the saving of children from the prison of poverty that has held their parents.


A broad system of implementation would involve substan­tially greater federal expenditures than anything now contem­plated. The cost will range widely depending on the standard of need accepted as the “basic allowance” to individuals and families, and on the rate at which additional income above this level is taxed. Yet if the deepening cycle of poverty and dependence on welfare can be broken, if the children of the poor can be given the opportunity to scale the wall that now separates them from the rest of society, the return on this investment will be great indeed.




After more than three decades of fragmented and grossly underfunded federal housing programs, nearly six million substandard housing units remain occupied in the United States.

The housing problem is particularly acute in the minority ghettos. Nearly two-thirds of all non-white families living in the central cities today live in neighborhoods marked with substandard housing and general urban blight. Two major factors are responsible.

First: Many ghetto residents simply cannot pay the rent necessary to support decent housing. In Detroit, for example, over 40 percent of the non-white occupied units in 1960 required rent of over 35 percent of the tenants’ income.

Second: Discrimination prevents access to many non-slum areas, particularly the suburbs, where good housing exists. In addition, by creating a “back pressure” in the racial ghettos, it makes it possible for landlords to break up apartments for denser occupancy, and keeps prices and rents of deteriorated ghetto housing higher than they would be in a truly free market.

To date, federal programs have been able to do comparatively little to provide housing for the disadvantaged. In the 31-year history of subsidized federal housing, only about 800,000 units have been constructed, with recent production averaging about 50,000 units a year. By comparison, over a period only three years longer, FHA insurance guarantees have made possible the construction of over ten million middle and upper-income units.

Two points are fundamental to the Commission’s recommendations:

First: Federal housing programs must be given a new thrust aimed at overcoming the prevailing patterns of racial segregation. If this is not done, those programs will continue to concentrate the most impoverished and dependent segments of the population into the central-city ghettos where there is already a critical gap between the needs of the population and the public resources to deal with them.

Second: The private sector must be brought into the production and financing of low and moderate rental housing to supply the capabilities and capital necessary to meet the housing needs of the nation.


The Commission recommends that the federal government:


* Enact a comprehensive and enforceable federal open housing law to cover the sale or rental of all housing, including single family homes.

* Reorient federal housing programs to place more low and moderate income housing outside of ghetto areas.

* Bring within the reach of low and moderate income families within the next five years six million new and existing units of decent housing, beginning with 600,000 units in the next year.


To reach this goal we recommend:


* Expansion and modification of the rent supplement program to permit use of supplements for existing housing, thus greatly increasing the reach of the program.

* Expansion and modification of the below-market interest rate program to enlarge the interest subsidy to all sponsors and provide interest-free loans to nonprofit sponsors to cover pre-construction costs, and permit sale of projects to nonprofit corporations, cooperatives, or condominiums.

* Creation of an ownership supplement program similar to present rent supplements, to make home ownership possible for low-income families.

* Federal writedown of interest rates on loans to private builders constructing moderate-rent housing.

* Expansion of the public housing program, with emphasis on small units on scattered sites, and leasing and “turnkey” programs.

* Expansion of the Model Cities program.

* Expansion and reorientation of the urban renewal program to give priority to projects directly assisting low-income households to obtain adequate housing.




One of the first witnesses to be invited to appear before this Commission was Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, a distinguished and perceptive scholar. Referring to the reports of earlier riot commissions, he said:


I read that report. . . of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot.

I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission–it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland–with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.


These words come to our minds as we conclude this report.

We have provided an honest beginning. We have learned much. But we have uncovered no startling truths, no unique insights, no simple solutions. The destruction and the bitterness of racial disorder, the harsh polemics of black revolt and white repression have been seen and heard before in this country.

It is time now to end the destruction and the violence, not only in the streets of the ghetto but in the lives of people.





[1] The term “ghetto” as used in this report refers to an area within a city characterized by poverty and acute social disorganization, and inhabited by members of a racial or ethnic group under conditions of involuntary segregation.

[2] A “central city” is the largest city of a standard metropolitan statistical area, that is, a metropolitan area containing at least one city of 50,000 or more inhabitants.