Speaking about the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020, Jelani Cobb writes, “the flames of a single incident seemed to combust, and all at once, over the country.” Cobb’s recently published book, The Essential Kerner Commission Report, “distills the full Kerner Report to its most significant and enduring parts.” The current book is a much slimmer volume, but no less timely or relevant.
The original, The Kerner Commission Report: the 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, was commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson and published to acclaim in 1968. It reported on the attitudes of Black and White Americans about the racial violence of the 1960s, looked at policing practices, the causes of violence, the problem of law enforcement, and the tangle of issues in Black-White relationships that had deep roots from the time of slavery.
A month after its publication, Martin Luther King was assassinated and violence erupted in more than 100 cities across the USA, which only added urgency to the subject of the report. We can still hear echoes today of the essential questions asked in the original report: How can we as a people end the resort to violence while we build a better society? How can the nation realize the promise of a single society — one nation indivisible — which as yet remains unfulfilled?
William Jelani Cobb is Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Born in Queens the year after the original Kerner Report was published, Cobb graduated from Howard University and received a Ph.D from Rutgers University in American History. He is the author of numerous books, including The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress, and To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic.
On October 27 (Wed) at 7 pm, The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education at Shepherd University will host Cobb for a spirited discussion along with a Q&A session.Staff Contributor