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Records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission), Including Records of the President's National Advisory Panel on Insurance in Riot-Affected Areas [preliminary description] (ca. 1960 - 1968)
RepositoryLyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library [preliminary]
Collection IDNational Archives RG 220
Size219 cubic feet
Collection Description
On July 29, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson, by Executive order 11365, established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the causes and factors leading to the summer riots of 1967, to develop techniques for averting or controlling similar disorders, to study the appropriate role for law enforcement agencies and government authorities in dealing with civil disorders, and to report these findings to the President with recommendations. The Commission was directed to make an interim report by March 1, 1968, and a final report not later than July 29, 1968. Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois was appointed Chairman. The President's action came in the immediate aftermath of the Newark riots (July 12-17, 1967).

The work of the "Kerner Commission," as it was commonly referred to, was divided into two phases. In the first phase, the Commission heard over 140 persons who appeared as witnesses during 20 days of hearings. Included were federal, state, and local officials, civil rights activists, inner-city residents, business and labor leaders, and scholars. In the second phase, the Commission held meetings to review preliminary drafts of the final report and to study the findings of the three major research programs, including field surveys of 23 cities, the development of riot profiles of 10 disorders, and the extent to which riots were organized or planned. A staff of 90 professional and clerical workers was recruited for the first phase, with 45 professionals remaining for the second.

Because time was an essential factor, the Commission decided in December that the interim and final reports would be issued as a single report by March 1, 1968. In this way their major conclusions and recommendations might be applied sooner, in hopes that a recurrence of similar disorders in the summer of 1968 could be avoided. On March 1, 1968, the 425-page document - "Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders" - was submitted to the President and the Commission was terminated.

Two related problems were studied separately by advisory panels. One task force, the Advisory Panel on Private Enterprise, under the chairmanship of Charles B. Thornton, examined the free enterprise system in its relation to the alleviation of causes of civil disorders, and on January 29, 1968, published "The Report to the Commission by the Advisory Panel on Private Enterprise." The problem of providing adequate insurance coverage for urban businesses and homeowners was studied by another panel, The President's National Advisory Panel on Insurance in Riot-Affected Areas. Established by Presidential directive on August 10, 1967, the panel under Chairman Richard J. Hughes, Governor of New Jersey, published its conclusions and recommendations on January 27, 1968, in a 164-page report, entitled, "Meeting the Insurance Crisis of our Cities: A Report by the President's National Advisory Panel on Insurance in Riot-Affected Areas."

The National Archives accessioned the main body of the records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders on June 8, 1968. Approximately 29 cubic feet of material was "embargoed" for fifteen years. Once access restrictions were lifted, that portion of the collection was designated "Records of the National Commission on Civil Disorders (Embargoed Series)"; it is described in a separate entry. The embargoed material includes confidential and secret reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, other Government agencies, and the Commission staff, as well as some sound recordings made in the field.
Collection Contents
Records of the National Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) include transcripts and background material of Commission meetings and Commission and staff subject [office] files. There are also photographs, audio recordings, media reports (newspaper, magazine, and other periodicals), government and non-government publications, and research studies. In addition, the collection contains correspondence, books, and many intermediate documents and working papers. Also included are a number of indexes, bibliographies and statistical analyses.

The collection is arranged in two parts: the Commission records, which contain 61 series, and the records of the advisory panel on insurance, containing 16 series. Boxes are numbered consecutively with each series. The Commission records initially contained 62 series; however the final series, Maps and Charts, was not sent to the LBJ Library and remains in the National Archives, Washington, DC. A Preliminary Inventory (available in the repository) provides a brief overview of each series; consult staff for details.

The collection contains many references to Newark, with some series devoted almost entirely to the city. Among the series and boxes with significant Newark focus are the following:

Series 1: Transcripts and Agendas of Hearings, in particular the witness statements in Boxes 2, 4, and 5

Series 7: Boxes 1 and 2

Series 8: Chronologies -- Reports on Cities Affected by Major Riots and Disorders, which includes descriptions of each city, data on disorders, events leading to the disorders, and an overall draft analysis

Series 9: Statistical Data -- Socio-Economic Profile of Selected Cities, charting levels of violence and providing information on population, economy, education, income, employment, and crime

Series 13: Newspaper Clippings - Target Cities, June-Oct, 1967

Series 18: Newark Survey, coded analyses of magazines and radio and television stations and programs

Series 21: Subject Files of the Associate Director for Public Safety, including items such as a letter and statement on problems faced by the Newark Fire Department during the riots, in Box 2 (Oct. 3, 1967); a report, "Newark Police-Community Relations Study," in Box 4 (1967)' and a memo from the Commission's Newark Investigative Team on handling of police brutality complaints, also in Box 4 (November 13, 1967)

Series 29: Box 1, Letters to President Johnson relative to his response to riots and the Kerner Commission

Series 32: Depositions of Witnesses

Series 33: Newark Exhibits (Box 3 of this series contains police department records and directives, photographs, newspaper clippings, and black militant literature)

Series 40: Broadcast Tapes, including tape recordings of NBC-TV Huntley-Brinkley coverage of civil disturbances in the summer of 1967

Series 45: Exhibits to Field Research Reports, including profiles of each city in which riots took place in 1967. The data was obtained from local officials and Federal agencies and provides an overall view of the character and problems of the community, supplemented by charts, maps, examples of local ordinances, and statistical information.

Series 54: records of the Advisory Panel on Private Enterprise

Series 59: Box 4

In the second part of the collection, Records of the National Advisory Panel on Insurance in Riot-Affected Areas, there are at least two series of particular interest:

Series 15: Six City Survey Records, arranged by city, including responses to questionnaires sent to dwelling unit owners, business firms, and institutions regarding urban area insurance in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Oakland, and St. Louis

Series 16: Six City Statistical Tabulations, providing a summary of the statistical data from the surveys. Its charts and rough notes contain a detailed analysis of types of buildings and insurance problems of the surveyed cities' neighborhoods.

NOTE: A significant portion of this collection has been microfilmed. The University Publications of America produced a 69-reel set titled "Civil Rights during the Johnson Administration, 1963-1969," drawn from the holdings of the LBJ Library. It has five sections: Part 1, White House Central Files; Part 2, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative History; Part 3, Oral Histories; Part 4, Records of the White House Conference on Civil Rights, 1965-1966; and Part 5, Records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission). The well-indexed microfilm guide is available online; for text of Part 5, see AdminPt5.pdf The microfilm set is held in a number of libraries, including Alexander Library at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Over 30,000 pages of the Kerner Commission records were microfilmed, including transcripts of the hearings, task force and consultant reports, staff files, and correspondence. Only twenty of the collection's series were selected for filming (some important Newark-related material is not included), but the microfilm guide's descriptions are much more detailed than those in the LBJ Library's Preliminary Inventory. The Inventory summarizes Kerner Commission, Series 1 in just one sentence, while the microfilm guide provides details of each of the Commission meetings in that series. For example, the description of the meeting of August 9, 1967 highlights its focus on Newark and mentions statements by Paul Ylvisaker and other delegation members, and the August 22 meeting description identifies twelve Newark officials who provided statements.

For a police view of the July 1967 disorders, see, New Jersey State Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Riot Study and Investigation Commission, "The road to anarchy: findings of Riot Study Commission of the New Jersey State Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Inc. (211 pages, illustrated [Jersey City, NJ?], c1968), available at the Newark Public Library, the New Jersey Historical Society, and elsewhere.
FormatsAudio materials; Photographic materials; Textual materials
SubjectsAfrican-American History / Civil Rights; Business / Commerce; Police / Crime / Law Enforcement; Politics and Government
Time Period20th Century
Access policyOpen for research