Segregated Philly is 2021 is no different than 1968

In 1968, a year after Black people rose up against racism in cities all over America, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to look into the reasons why.

Clearly something needed to change, and it needed to change quickly, because scores of people had died in the uprising. But instead of providing a report that affirmed the many changes that Johnson had brought about on race, The Kerner Commission decided to tell a disturbing truth.

“Our nations is moving toward two societies,” the report said. “One black, one white—separate and unequal.”

I thought of that report, written 53 years ago, when I saw a new report from the Inquirer on Philadelphia. The report found that our city is nearly half black, it is as segregated as ever. Not just racially, but economically.

Philadelphia, it seems, is a living, breathing example of what the Kerner Commission envisioned—a place where black and white people exist in the same space, but live in completely different worlds.

To illustrate the difference, the Inquirer looked at two neighborhoods just two miles apart. In largely Black West Oak Lane, the median household income was just 40 percent of the household income in largely white Chestnut Hill. To make matters worse, the black neighborhood’s unemployment rate was triple that of the white neighborhood.

And like the Kerner report, the Inquirer’s report was published a year after a similar racial uprising.

In fact, if you read the Kerner report, you might think they’re talking about now. The Kerner commission said the 1967 riots were the result of bad policing, a flawed justice system, inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression, and more.

They were right at the time, and if Philadelphia shows us anything. It shows that they’re still right today.

Photo: Philadelphia By. Peter Miller

Creative Commons License 

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