Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

The Kerner Report was commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to determine the causes of the riots that had broken out in American cities during the previous several summers and to make recommendations about how to prevent these urban riots. The authors of the report examined what had happened in riots in Newark, Detroit, New Brunswick, and elsewhere.

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One theme of the report was the causes of the riots and the concerns of people living in the neighborhoods where the riots had broken out. The authors found that African Americans living in these neighborhoods had three levels of concerns. The first and most pressing was the lack of economic and job opportunities and the lack of housing. Of secondary concern was the lack of educational opportunities, and the next level of concern was the lack of federal and municipal services. The authors found that in spite of these grievances, cities had not responded by improving material, economic, or educational opportunities for African Americans but had largely turned to increasingly arming the police.

Another theme of the report was the underlying causes of the riots. The study squarely placed the blame for the urban disturbances on white racism. They wrote that following the legal gains of the civil rights movement, African Americans had increased hopes of equality in terms of the opportunities available to them. However, these hopes had been frustrated. The authors wrote that violence was first used by whites, including those resisting segregation, and that use of violence had then been adopted by African American protestors.

A final theme was the likelihood that violence would continue if the needs and grievances of African Americans were not met. The authors wrote that two societies had been created—one black and one white—and that they were becoming increasingly unequal. The authors believed that this situation could be reversed, but it would take increased commitment from the government and individual Americans to do so.

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