Healing Our Divided Society

Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report

Edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis
Outstanding Academic Title, Choice, 2018
Book Cover

PB: $24.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1603-2
Publication: Mar 18

HC: $99.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1602-5
Publication: Mar 18

488 pages
6 x 9
9 tables, 54 figures

Examining inequality in America fifty years after the Kerner Report

Read the Introduction (pdf).


In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded that America was heading toward “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Today, America’s communities are experiencing increasing racial tensions and inequality, working-class resentment over the unfulfilled American Dream, white supremacy violence, toxic inaction in Washington, and the decline of the nation’s example around the world.

In Healing Our Divided Society, Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, along with Eisenhower Foundation CEO Alan Curtis, re-examine fifty years later the work still necessary towards the goals set forth in The Kerner Report. This timely volume unites the interests of minorities and white working- and middle-class Americans to propose a strategy to reduce poverty, inequality, and racial injustice. Reflecting on America’s urban climate today, this new report sets forth evidence-based policies concerning employment, education, housing, neighborhood development, and criminal justice based on what has been proven to work—and not work.

Contributors include Oscar Perry Abello, Elijah Anderson, Anil N. F. Aranha, Jared Bernstein, Henry G. Cisneros, Elliott Currie, Linda Darling-Hammond, Martha F. Davis, E. J. Dionne, Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, Delbert S. Elliott, Carol Emig, Jeff Faux, Ron Grzywinski, Michael P. Jeffries, Lamar K. Johnson, Celinda Lake, Marilyn Melkonian, Gary Orfield, Diane Ravitch, Laurie O. Robinson, Herbert C. Smitherman, Jr., Joseph E. Stiglitz, Dorothy Stoneman, Kevin K. Washburn, Valerie Wilson, Gary Younge, Julian E. Zelizer, and the editors.


“It's been fifty years since the Kerner Commission offered a wake-up call long in the making, holding up a mirror to confront the reality of a society deeply divided by both race and economic status. Half a century later, how many more wake-up calls do we need before we face the tragic reality that in many ways—despite pledges by politicians and remarkable local accomplishments by innovative, creative leaders—in the aggregate, as a country, we've fallen backward. It's time to get real about both the challenge and the work required to bring great models to scale and break a cycle that downgrades the American Dream and diminishes our very definition of ourselves as a country of equal opportunity. In Healing Our Divided Society , Fred Harris and Alan Curtis have curated a collection of brilliant essays authored by a diverse group of respected experts and activists, to examine where we’ve gone wrong and wrestle with what we must do to respond at last to the alarm bell of the Kerner Report and live up to the promise of our country. This book is a must-read for anyone who is tired of the status quo and in need of both the inspiration to make a difference and proof that there’s still time to do it. "
John F. Kerry, sixty-eighth U.S. Secretary of State

"(T)his book contains voluminous information on evolving disparities and inequities, what has worked and what has not worked in efforts to ameliorate them, and steps we need to take going forward.... The editors assert that the nation made significant progress in the first decade following the (Kerner) report but has fallen back since then, with some exceptions during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Then the editors offer that the primary reason for this book is to put issues such as racism, poverty, income inequality, women's and children's rights, health, education, police–community relations, and related challenges back on the public agenda. The book certainly provides a lot of ammunition for those who share these objectives.... (A) rich collection of empirical evidence, policy analysis, and recommendations for future actions."
Journal of Urban Affairs

"An anniversary publication like this could easily be a dry academic exercise or mere retrospective, but Harris and Curtis choose a bolder, more urgent tact.... As a whole, the volume comprehensively catalogs America's comprehensive failures – and does so in short, readable segments. Many of the contributors' essays are successful standalone briefs on America's lasting problems and serve as useful capsule lessons on the dimensions of our (still) pressing racial divide and socioeconomic crises. The book is also laced with biting and concentrated evidence of our lack of progress, the collection of which, alone, gives the project merit."
Journal of Children and Poverty

"This collection of expert voices (Harris is the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission; Curtis is equally esteemed as an expert on this subject) brings powerful messages regarding the destructive consequences of the inequalities and discriminatory policies that shape life in the US. As an appraisal of contemporary injustice and inhumanity, the volume certainly stings.... Summing Up: Highly recommended."

"Healing Our Divided Society explores mobility through a much wider analytical lens of 'progress,' broadly defined. In this collection, progress is explored in a variety of realms, including economic and employment shifts, educational improvements, housing and neighborhood investment, criminal justice, and equality and equity. The main theme of the thirty-one essays is that in terms of 'progress,' the United States remains relatively unchanged since the 1960s.... For all of these reasons, the editors argued, 'The warning of the Kerner Commission is as relevant today as it was then.'"
Journal of Urban History

Table of Contents

About the Eisenhower Foundation

Introduction and the History of the Kerner Report
Part I. Evidence-Based Policy
1. Policy That Works
2. Economic and Employment Policy
3. Education Policy
4. Housing and Neighborhood Investment Policy
5. Criminal Justice Policy and Mass Incarceration
6. Domestic Reform, Global Impact
7. Financing Reform
8. New Will

Part II. Perspectives from the Fiftieth-Anniversary National Advisory Council
Economic and Employment Policy
1. Economic Justice: Fifty Years after the Kerner Report • Joseph E. Stiglitz
2. The Policy Agenda to Address Racial Injustice • Jared Bernstein
3. The Case for Solidarity • Jeff Faux
4. The Power of Love Coupled with Opportunity • Dorothy Stoneman
5. Fifty Years since the 1967 Rebellion, Have Health and Health Care Services Improved? • Herbert C. Smitherman, Jr., Lamar K. Johnson, and Anil N. F. Aranha

Education Policy
6. Education and the Path to One Nation, Indivisible • Linda Darling-Hammond
7. Education: Racial and Social Justice • Diane Ravitch
8. Kerner and Kids: Work Remains • Carol Emig
9. Still Struggling to Change the Odds for America’s Poor
Children and Children of Color • Marian Wright Edelman
10. A New Civil Rights Agenda • Gary Orfield

Housing and Neighborhood Investment Policy
11. Housing: A National Anthem • Oscar Perry Abello, with Ron Grzywinski and Marilyn Melkonian
12. Race Relations since the Ghetto Riots of the 1960s • Elijah Anderson

Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Policy
13. Evidence-Based Programs, Policies, and Practices • Delbert S. Elliott
14. Policing in the United States: From the Kerner Legacy Looking Forward • Laurie O. Robinson
15. Race, Violence, and Criminal Justice • Elliott Currie

Equality and Inclusion
16. Suffering and Citizenship: Racism and Black Life • Michael P. Jeffries
17. New Dimensions of Equity: The Experience of American Latinos • Henry G. Cisneros
18. Everybody Does Better in Indian Country When Tribes Are Empowered • Kevin K. Washburn
19. We Must Do Better: Fifty Years of Fitful Progress for Women • Martha F. Davis

New Will and the Media
20. Messaging Strategy Needed to Combat Inequality Today • Celinda Lake
21. The Kerner Commission and the Challenge of Politics: The “New Ethnicity,” Class, and Racial Justice • E. J. Dionne, Jr.
22. The Media and Race Relations • Julian E. Zelizer
23. Sometimes, “Dog Bites Man” Really Is the Story • Gary Younge


About the Author(s)

Fred Harris is a former U. S. Senator, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of New Mexico, and the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission. He is the author of The New Populism and co-editor of Quiet Riots: Race and Poverty in the United States: The Kerner Report Twenty Years Later.

Alan Curtis is President and CEO of The Eisenhower Foundation. He was Executive Director of President Jimmy Carter’s Urban Policy Group and is editor of American Violence and Public Policy and Patriotism, Democracy, and Common Sense: Restoring America's Promise at Home and Abroad. He is replicating the Quantum Opportunities model that graduates at-risk youth from high school in low-income communities.