SPRINGFIELD — In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission to investigate the causes of race riots in the U.S. and to offer recommendations for the future.
While its full name is the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the panel is more widely known as the Kerner Commission, so called because it was chaired by Illinois’ then-governor Otto Kerner Jr.
Among other things, the commission’s February 1968 report concluded after seven months of investigation that, “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a Chicago Democrat who has been in the General Assembly since 2003, said echoes of that report’s findings can be heard amid protests of police violence and civil unrest reflected in the news headlines today.
“Everything that we’re seeing come to fruition is very much like what the Kerner Report or the Kerner Commission explained back in 1968,” she said. “Nothing has changed, and it has been 50 years of more since the report, but even then, they said that it was the white racism, not the black anger so much that had turned the key that unlocked urban American turmoil.”
Collins, a member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, shared her thoughts on the process of achieving racial equity for Capitol News Illinois’ “Perspectives on Progress” series, a collection of conversations on race in the U.S. and Illinois.
Legislatively, Collins said she will focus on inequities in banking for persons of color, quoting from a WBEZ-FM radio station report in Chicago that showed, “for every $1 banks loaned in Chicago’s white neighborhoods, they invested just 12 cents in the city’s black neighborhoods and 13 cents in Latino areas.”
“It continually widens the wealth gap between white and black communities,” Collins said of the lending practices. “Chicago is very segregated. And so we, definitely in black communities, they’re like isolated islands, where you see mass deterioration, disinvestment and lack of capital for our black businesses, as well as for home ownership. And that grows out of a whole historical framework of racial zoning, redlining, racial covenants on the west side, even the subprime mortgage issue, where certain communities were targeted with subprime loans.”
Collins said equity in banking will become even more important as black communities look to rebuild from recent looting and property damage stemming from civil unrest. The representative said she would never condone such activities, but added the news media and others must take a deeper look at the driving forces that lead to the unrest.
“And so when you fail to educate a population, and when they feel they have no future, when they see their friends and their family members incarcerated or killed, they feel that they’re not invested in society, because they have been pushed back. They’ve been told that you have no worth. They’ve been devalued,” she said. “So the anger, there’s a root to the anger, the angst and the anguish that we see in the streets and nobody really wants to deal with the root cause. They always want to deal with the aftermath of it.”
Collins said she will use her position as Chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee to pursue equity in banking.
“It took almost 20 years for us to bring in the Walgreens, to bring in the Bank of America, bring in Citibank, bring in Home Depot, after 1968 riots or rebellions,” she said. “And so we want to ensure that this is not the time for them to curtail their efforts or to pull out of the city, to pull out of the urban community. It’s more of an emphasis for them to come back with investment — especially for the banks.”
“It is very difficult for black businesses to get the capital to maintain their businesses,” she added. “And so this is an opportunity for the lending institutions to allow the capital to flood into the community for the rebuilding, for the reinvestment which has been lacking before. So now it’s even more a desperate situation.”
In terms of the national conversation on race, Collins said Americans have to address the issue head-on and “have true, critical conversations about race.”
“We need to move out of our comfort zone, we need to push people to move out of their comfort zones and deal with the race issue,” she said. “And until we do that, we’re going to see it’s going to be a cyclical occurrence of these rebellions.”
She said she is hopeful for change amid widespread outrage over the video depicting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 at the hands of a white police officer.
“And so I’m hoping that people realize now, or a window has opened into the reality that we encounter as African Americans,” she said. “And I’m hoping there are willing to be people of goodwill to join with us in carrying on the struggle in the fight for change.”