50 years after Kerner and King, racism still matters
“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.” — Kerner Commission Report, 1968
Fifty years ago today, the public assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.rocked our nation. Eerily similar to the title of King’s final book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?,” his murder sent a powerful shock wave through the soul of America; urban rebellions sprang up in over 100 cities, placing the nation at a political and social crossroads.
But it did not have to be this way.
Fifty years ago, as cities burned from people’s rage at King’s murder, the rest of America had already dismissed and forgotten the damning and prophetic report published only a month earlier by the presidential commission and chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner. Officially called the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the Kerner Commission identified systemic racism and poverty as the causes of the major black rebellions in Newark and Detroit the previous summer.