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“Integration Without Preparation Is Frustration”: Community Reactions to the Kerner Report

President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer since 1964 and to provide recommendations for the future. The Commission’s 1968 report, informally known as the Kerner Report, concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of ’apartheid’” in its major cities. The Kerner report delivered an indictment of “white society” for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums—primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing. President Johnson, however, rejected the recommendations. In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In the following statements to a joint Congressional committee hearing on urban employment problems, two directors of community-based job training programs in Philadelphia and New York City described their efforts. Both emphasized the need for increased federal funding to support practical ways to implement the Commission’s recommendations.


Mr. SULLIVAN. . . . The program I make reference to is OIC, the Opportunity Industrial Center program, a program created out of the black community, led largely by the black community, a program that was not begun by the Government, is not an agency program, is not a bureaucratic program, but is a program in the true American tradition—of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was initiated in an old abandoned jailhouse in Philadelphia in January of 1964. This program was begun with nickels and dimes from people in the black community, in the concentrated communities rather than the ghetto, for we abhor “ghetto”, we abhor it. And my people do not think they live in ghettos.

Situations may indicate to those who live outside that it takes on the proportion of a ghetto. We prefer not to be called ghetto-livers. We live in concentrated communities of America. . . .

Our first partnership was with industry—because we did not believe it was possible to develop a manpower program without the full partnership of industry. Therefore, we went to industry, to assist us in structuring our curriculum, to assist in securing equipment, to screen our instructors, and to be sure that jobs were available to our people when our people had concluded training.

This was significant, gentlemen, in that in January of 1964 very few industries in America had begun to open their doors to black men and women of the concentrated community. There was only tokenism on a very broad and general scale. And yet industry, by evidence of the support it began to give to an indigenously created program, said in Philadelphia and in Delaware Valley—If men and women are training, then we will see the jobs are available.

At first many of us did not believe it. We said “We will see, if you put your jobs where your mouth is.” So we began training.

Most of the people who came to us did not finish high school. Most of the people who came to us were in poverty categories. Many of the people who came to us were from jails, from all kinds of conditions, walking in the streets, doing many things to keep alive. . . .

Two distinct phases of OIC distinguish the program. First was skill development. But skill development was only incidental. There are thousands of institutions in America that can provide skill development to black and white people—the academicians, institutions, the technicians. But we developed skill because we wanted a man to have a minimum skill—so that the excuse of industry could not hold up by saying “You have no skill.”

The next and most important thing we did was to develop a program of attitude—self-habilitation, I called it—the process of self-habilitation. This was the first self-habilitation prevocational program in America. All programs that have occurred in manpower dealing with prevocational training were patterned after this program begun in the black community, OIC.

The attitudinal program called the feeder program was made out of necessity. After a month I found that putting a man behind a machine to teach him a skill was not enough. Therefore, we developed the feeder, the attitudinal prevocational program, to prepare men for skilled training.

Two weeks to three months, men and women were in the attitudinal training program, feeder training program. Here men learned the basics again of reading, writing and arithmetic, although we did not call it that. So I called it communications skills and computational art. Therefore, the language of computational skills that now you find in your schools and your technical institutions and in your universities is traced to the black community of Philadelphia, where I created the term, communications skills and computational art.

The first programs in America institutionalized to teach minority and African history were in OIC. I did it because I wanted black men to be proud of what they were. A colored woman does not have to be blond to be beautiful, and a black man does not have to be white to be smart. I wanted him to be proud of what he was, to stand on his own feet, and to realize that genius was color-blind. Therefore we taught African-American history. In addition to that, we taught Italian-American history, Irish-American history, Appalachian-American history, Chinese-American history, so that our people could see that every man had a sense of value and respectability in our American society, so that a man could respect himself first, and others next, because if a man respects himself, he does not have to hate you any more.

People who have been a part of violent movements came to OICs by the hundreds, and their total lives have been reconstructed. Women who had been walking the streets for a living, women who had been in jails, men who wanted to tear the country down, had come to OIC, and had become some of the most positive productive citizens in Philadelphia. . . .

In Philadelphia 4 years ago this program started. We have doubled in what we have added to the Philadelphia economy—every investment that has been made in the program. According to the Department of Labor statistics, we have added $20 billion in new purchasing power to Philadelphia. Each year we save the Commonwealth now more than $2 million that would have gone into relief checks. We saved the money from relief checks, as much as we used to operate the program. The money saved in relief checks in Philadelphia amounts to more than we put into putting the program on. The program on our initiative has spread into 75 cities. It is now reaching more than 20,000 people in makeshift training programs—because the Government does not give me the money to do it on the scale I want to do it.

Mr. Shriver a few years ago wanted to invest $25 million in a budding OIC concept. Members of his staff said it would be too great an investment on a program not proved. He himself said, “If we had, we would have put OIC’s like supermarkets in every community in America.” And he was right.

Four years ago I said integration without preparation is frustration. From my pulpit I predicted what would happen in the streets of America. I say this is an opportunity that we can do away with some of the frustrations by giving men preparation in an era of integration.

I was one of the forerunners of integration. I created the selective patronage program in this country. I created the selective buying movement in America—because industry refused to employ colored people on an equal basis. I created it.

After I saw the jobs opening, and enlightenment come, I decided I would produce men to fill the jobs. Because I said protest is empty without progress. OIC’s are now developed in 75 cities on pennies and nickels and dimes, on shoestrings—while billions of dollars are being poured into manpower programs that do not reach us at all. Programs that can be seen, led by black leaders in this country—I mean the real black leaders of this country—are crying for support. We are having programs in church basements, in shanties, on street corners, under trees in this country. OIC. And yet billions of dollars are being spent in sophistication, rather than implementation of programs to reach the heart of the person who needs the work most. . . .

I am a preacher. I am not a theoretician, I am not an academician. I am a black man who knows that either I will do something to help my people to be lifted and raised, or by 1988 one-half of the black community in America will be on relief. We will become a government’s people, rather than a people’s government. It will mean that the whole life will depend upon what the Government and the President want to do with me. And I do not want that. I do not want a government to tell me what to do, to structure my life. I do not want it. I want to be self-dependent on my own right. . . .

I want to have the capability to create my own jobs. Six hundred thousand corporations in this country of size, and a very few controlled and owned by black men. I want to create corporations. I don’t want to shine the shoes, I want to make the shoes. I want to make dresses, not buy them. My people want not just to be the consumers, the beggar, we want to be producers. We don’t want you to build housing for us. We will build it for ourselves, and you, too. We will build them together. There you have a problem with the labor unions. That is a whole new sermon I won’t go into right now.

The thing I am saying is there is a movement on foot here, a massive movement of self-habilitation in America; black men who are saying—the cry is not “Burn, Baby, Burn,” but “Build, Brothers, Build.” The new cry is “Build, Brothers, Build.”

What we need, though, is support from manpower committees and councils, from the Congress, to say to the Department of Labor— “Look at OIC, and give OIC a chance to prove or disprove what it can do.” And I think this will happen. You give us a chance. Give us a $100 million a year on the basis of what we are doing, come and see what we are doing. And we have not lost a penny that I know of. Might have. But $100 million a year. Eighteen months after we get $100 million, I will double it in income to the community. In 10 years—I did this on the plane—I figured it out—in 10 years, with a $100 million a year—it will still be a baby as far as manpower is concerned—we will develop our manpower, we will develop the capability, we will organize the community militantly toward training and retraining, and productivity—within 10 years, with a $100 million for 10 years, I will add to the American economy $24 billion. I will add $13,750 million in new wages, and I will save the relief rolls in America $10,800 million that would go in relief checks. I will save the economy of this country $24 billion. . . .

. . .

Mr. BECK. In my statement—I have submitted for the record a written statement, so I will merely hit the highlights of it in my oral presentation.

The program with which I am concerned on the Lower East Side has as one of its primary purposes, training people for employment and securing jobs. I would like to talk to you about the impact of the current national efforts to prepare people for employment on an ongoing program.

To begin with, I would like to make the point that while the Kerner Report contained no revelations it has caused me and those with whom I work to do a lot of soul searching about the real nature of racism in our society; most particularly the way in which racism may be present subtly in our own attitudes. As we reviewed this phenomena in relation to employment, it became increasingly clear to us that the major obstacles to securing employment for the ghetto residents are a series of credentials which are required for entrance into jobs in our society today. Some of them are the credentials of unionism. Some of them are the credentials of professionalism. Some of them are the credentials of life habits; a manner of speaking, a manner of addressing other people. The absence of these credentials is what keeps our aim to place people in jobs that exist from finding fulfillment in the actual act of placement.

Today, in our society, a number of different solutions for economic problems in urban areas are advanced and I would like to talk about them briefly one by one.

First, we have been attempting to locate industry in the slum areas, and I know you are familiar with what has been done in Watts and some of the other depressed areas of our cities.

Despite these success stories, I cannot be optimistic about attracting substantial large-scale industry into what is plainly a high-risk area, unless there is some form of public subsidization for such a venture. I do not, however, view subsidization of industry to perform public acts as not the proper line of attack on a public problem. I believe that industry has a proper concern with social problems, and is increasingly discharging its social responsibilities. I also believe that industry’s primary concern will continue to be and must continue to be, operating a profitmaking venture. I am skeptical about mixing this profit concern with Government’s responsibility to solve social problems.

A second solution advanced is the creation of jobs through the institution of public works projects. I am sure you are aware that thus far, although this holds promise, Congress has not really provided a major public works program that would make the Government the employer of last resort for people who want to work.

In addition to these two possibilities there is a third venture which is the organization of producers cooperatives and consumer cooperatives, which meet the need, the growing desire of the most deprived people in our slum areas, to run their own show, and to master their own social institutions. And although the cooperative idea is an old idea, I think it has a new relevancy because it fits so well into the desire of people to run their own show.

The fourth possible solution is the possibility of tackling the requirement of credentials which keep people out of jobs. We need to shift the focus from what piece of paper you hold, what diploma you hold, or what apprenticeship you have passed through, to what is the competence of the person, what can the person do.

Now, in a program which has been funded by the OEO and the Department of Labor, we have been training a number of persons who have left the rolls of the public assistance for jobs in the health arena, for social work positions. Although this has been a small and, to some people, an expensive program, I think we have demonstrated something that gives us a clue as to one way out. . . .

Another point I made is that although we might look to a massive public works program as an immediate solution at least for the men and the women seeking jobs in my neighborhood, thus far Congress has not seen its way clear to advancing this kind of solution.

I have held before you the possibility of developing occupations in the service sector, occupations which will be of benefit to our hospitals, our welfare agencies, recreation, and I have given you, I think, some very convincing data that this can be done. I have given you the economic facts that show these are real savings.

I do believe that if those of us who have been fortunate in our society, and have the credentials—the degrees and the right words—are willing to move over a little bit and say that we will allow other people who have been shut out of society to come in—not with credentials, but with competence—then I think we could make some dent in this problem. . . .

Source: Congress, Joint Economic Committee, Employment and Manpower Problems in the Cities: Implications of the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 91th Congress, 2d Session, May, June, 1968 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968).