Home » 55 years ago, the Kerner Report predicted that divisions driven by racism could lead to the destruction of our democratic values 

55 years ago, the Kerner Report predicted that divisions driven by racism could lead to the destruction of our democratic values 

by The Grio

Former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner holds a copy of the 1968 Commission on Civil Disorders report as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. Kerner, who headed the commission, warns of possible future civil disorders stemming from high unemployment among minorities. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, the fire next time 

— ”Mary Don’t You Weep,” Negro Spiritual

This month marks the 55th anniversary of the release of the Kerner Report, the highly anticipated 1968 document forged from the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. In the aftermath of widespread violence and racial unrest in urban centers across the country, the 11-member commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and headed by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner ultimately pinpointed racism as the primary cause of the hostilities.

Popularly, the most indelible takeaway from the Kerner Commission study, which was released on Feb. 29, 1968, was the contention that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” However, far less quoted and yet as prescient was the report’s subsequent prediction that without the adoption of drastic and timely remedies, there would be a “continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” 

So was the Kerner Commission report — one mirroring the earlier prophecy of James Baldwin’s 1963 classic “The Fire Next Time” — correct? Are our nation’s basic democratic values being destroyed as a result of the racism that continues to plague our country?

One need look no further than recent headlines to gauge the prophetic nature of the report. Consistently, the deep polarization of our contemporary…

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