Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andrew Morris




commission, kerner, police, report, media


This thesis examines the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders’ (Kerner Commission) investigation from 1967 to 1968 of the urban violence that occurred throughout the late 1960s in the United States. The study focuses on the process by which the Kerner Commission’s research and investigation became the conclusions and recommendations found in the Final Report they produced. For purposes of analysis, three sections of the commission’s research and findings were examined—the relationships between urban violence and racism, the police and minorities, and the press and urban violence. The commission’s methodology was a combination of investigative fieldwork that included interviews and attitude surveys with African American communities, social science research, and direct testimonies from over one hundred and thirty witnesses. The Kerner Commission’s Final Report was well received by the media but quickly became controversial within academic and political circles. Generally, the Report’s reception can be characterized as too liberal for Conservatives and too conservative for liberals. In evaluating the culmination of the commission’s findings and recommendations into their Final Report, this thesis demonstrates several reasons why their investigation may not have produced the result many expected it to. The commission knew from the beginning that in order for their Report to have any influence that it would need to be generally accepted by the public and government. Producing a document that advocated for radical reforms would detract from the general acceptability of their recommendations. An important factor was the context in which the Report was to be published. In 1968, Johnson was increasingly becoming more unpopular and the political climate was unstable. The President was not in a position to endorse a policy agenda that advocated for increased federal spending or the restructuring of major American institutions. Therefore, the Johnson administration attempted to limit the scope of the recommendations that the commission put forth. Lastly, while the Report is criticized for being inconsistent as a result of the strong moralistic introduction that precludes largely broad and abstract recommendations, this study argues that the commission’s inclusion of the introduction was done deliberately. The commission relied on the introduction to convey the spirit of their investigation without forcing the Report to endorse specific recommendations. By concentrating on attitudinal change within society, the commission focused on individuals rather than the failure of the Johnson administration and American institutions.