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The Commission on the Status of Minorities - The Moynihan Report: 50 Years Later A Social, Political & Historical Forum

The Moynihan Report: 50 Years Later A Social, Political & Historical Forum
March 18, 2015

An Introduction

In March 1965, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, otherwise known as the Moynihan Report, was leaked to the press and it ignited a controversy regarding the status of the black family and the impact of that status on American society as a whole. In 1965, Patrick Moynihan, Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Johnson Administration, wrote an internal government policy report to provide support for the unveiling of the declaration of the War on Poverty. Ten years after the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement, with the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and culminating in the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, policy attention shifted from ending racial Jim Crow and segregation to a focus on economic disparities and the failure of black families to attain the American Dream.

In his famous "Freedom is Not Enough" speech at Howard University in July 1965, President Johnson said, "The voting rights bill will [establish the freedom to vote]. . . But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'Now you are free' . . . . You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him . . . and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. . . . To this end, equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough."

It was this speech, along with Johnson's War on Poverty speech before Congress in January 1964, which began four years of social programs which resulted in Medicare, Medicaid, federal school loans, food stamps, and a host of others between 1964 and 1968. The author of Johnson's 1965 speech was Patrick Moynihan. Being at the cusp of leadership of major policy implementation, Moynihan was sidelined when his report was leaked to the press.

The report made two conclusions regarding the state of the black family. First, the black family was dysfunctional and was getting worse as far as its stability. Second, the damage to the black family could be addressed through direct social programs, the top being employment for the black male and allowing the black male to be the patriarch of his family with support from the black female, just as it was in white families.

The damage to the black family, according to Moynihan, was caused by two factors. The first factor was centuries of slavery and Jim Crow and its impact on the structure of the black family. As Moynihan explained, "[t]hree centuries of injustice have brought about deep seated structural distortions in the life of the Negro American" and that the "Negro situation . . . commonly perceived by whites in terms of the visible manifestation of discrimination and poverty" needed to evolve in order to consider "the effect that three centuries of exploitation have had on the fabric of Negro society itself."

The second factor was the matriarchal nature of the black family in which the black male was neither the bread winner nor the male role model of manhood for young black males. This lack of black male presence in the home leads to failure in school and delinquent behavior of young black male children. Moynihan asserted that because the "negro community has been forced into a maternal structure . . . out of line with the rest of the American society" it has a weak family structure suffering from "a tangle of pathology." At the center of the tangle of pathology is black male unemployment and the failure to hold a responsible position in the home, which resulted in "25% of [b]lack families not [being] intact[,] 24% of [b]lack children born illegitimate [,and] 25% of [b]lack families were single female headed households."

Conservatives of the 1960s, as they do today, ignore the first factor and hail the second factor a political orthodoxy. The report was only intended for internal government review as an empirical justification for the policies of the War on Poverty. The goal of the report was to justify the need for national action. What Moynihan received for his effort was national condemnation. Blacks, liberal ones anyway, cursed him and his report as blaming the victim and justifying racist ideals. Feminists, both black and white, cursed the report for blaming women for the problem of the family and supporting a patriarchal view of America that was under direct challenge by the Women's Movement of the middle and late 1960s.

Due to the backlash, the report was abandoned by the Johnson Administration and Moynihan left the Administration. By the 1980s, the report had reemerged as being prescient and evidence that the policies of the 1960s were a failure. As President Reagan in January 1988 asserted, "the Federal Government declared war on poverty, and poverty won." Conservatives in the 1960s argued that social programs do not help the poor, and the problems of blacks are of their own making to be fixed by them. With the end of legal Jim Crow, the responsibility and fault of their family structure belongs to them. The pathology within the black family, it was asserted, was reinforced by social programs that removed the value of work and personal responsibility from the poor.

Conservatives today, as they did in the 1960s, ignore the Slavery/Jim Crow historical context Moynihan used to assert that poverty was attached to black family structure. In doing so, conservatives distort the report by asserting that Moynihan was right - the issue of poverty lay in the black family. The Moynihan Report and its receipt cannot be understood in a vacuum. It was leaked one year after the rise of Goldwater and the conservative takeover of the Republican Party. It followed the summer riots of 1964 and preceded the urban riots of 1965-1968. The Civil Rights Movement was beginning to shift away from the philosophy of Dr. King to a more militant approach. Lastly, white fear of black crime and its linkage to the Civil Rights Movement was forming a political backlash against the War on Poverty that would lead to President Nixon and later the war on drugs and crime. The politics of the middle 1960s had distorted the receipt of the report. The politics of the post-1960s have continued that distortion.

With the goal of fostering a historical and public policy understanding of these issues, the Kutztown University Commission on the Status of Minorities has organized The Moynihan Report: Fifty Years Later: A Social, Political & Historical Forum.


The Commission on the Status of Minorities (CSM) is part of the governance structure of Kutztown University. The CSM reports to the University Administrative Council. The CSM focuses on the monitoring of the recruitment and retention of students, faculty, staff, and administrators of color at Kutztown University. The responsibilities of the CSM include making recommendations regarding new policies, as well as changes to existing Kutztown University policies, programs, and/or procedures to support the creation of a culturally and psychologically "safe" environment in which the cultural, educational, and intellectual needs of students, staff, faculty, and administrators of color can be met and their experience at Kutztown enhanced.

The 2014-2015 members of the CSM:
Dr. Arthur H. Garrison (Chair), College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Dr. Thomas Robinson (Vice-Chair), African American Professional Organization
Dr. James D. Jackson (Treasurer), Black Faculty Caucus
Dr. Soo Goh (Web Master), College of Visual & Performing Arts
Ms. Rhonda Branford, Division of Multicultural Services
Mr. Hunter Wuensche, Student Government Board
Dr. Krista Varano, Elementary Education
Dr. Gary Chao, College of Business
Dr. Qin Geng, College of Business
Ms. Jackie Fox, Esq., Office of Social Equity
Ms. Kiara Richardson, President of the Black Student Union

Videos Edited by Jeffrey DePalma, KUTV.  The CSM wishes to provide special thanks to KUTV's Newsbreak for filming the event.