Racial Gaps Remain 40 Years After Riots

Darren A. Nichols, Detroit News, February 29, 2008

Some progress has been made for African-Americans, but 40 years after riots filled urban cities across the country there is still a gap between blacks and whites in areas such as poverty, education, crime and unemployment, according to new findings from the Kerner Commission.

Despite an emerging black middle class and increases in black entrepreneurs and public officials at all levels, the commission that famously warned the United States is moving toward “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal” found that few goals have been met since its bombshell 1968 findings.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the original commission during Detroit’s 1967 riots. The panel investigated what led to the city’s six days of civil unrest and 43 deaths. When the commission reconvened last year, it made Detroit its first stop.

The commission’s grade on progress across the country for African-Americans: D+. It’s a mark that resonates in metropolitan Detroit, the nation’s most segregated region.

“There is nothing I can point to in our present-day experience that tell us that we are significantly better off today than we were (then),” said Arthur Johnson, a former president of the NAACP Detroit branch.

“The income gap is real and something we have the right to argue about. It has come to a point where we must tell this nation that we are not going to accept the miseducation and the misdirection of education resources.”

Last year, the Washington, D.C.-based Eisenhower Foundation reconvened the commission during the 40th anniversary of the 1967 riots. The initial 11-member panel warned the nation faced a “system of apartheid” in major cities and urged legislation to create jobs and improve housing. {snip}

The updated findings were compiled through hearings in Detroit, Newark and Washington, D.C., which had riots in the 1960s. Some have suggested the incidents were a rebellion against a lack of jobs and education in Detroit.

The commission’s report, which will be released in full this year, found:

o Some employers still “steer” minority applicants into the worst jobs; real estate agents send them to less desirable neighborhoods and mortgage lenders accept fewer applications than those from similar whites.

o Unemployment and underemployment were the most important causes of poverty, yet African-American unemployment has remained twice as high as white unemployment during each of the four decades since 1968. About 37 million Americans live in poverty, while 46 million Americans are without health insurance.

o Educational disparities remain linked to funding. The wealthiest 10 percent of school districts in the United States spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent.

{snip}

“There is no war against poverty in America,” said [Maureen] Taylor, the state chairwoman of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. “There is a war against the poor. We have to go and change the circumstances of poverty.”

But others are still optimistic. A Detroit News poll found six in 10 African-Americans said they feel blacks have made at least some economic progress since 1967.

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