The Riot Report

Tuesday night, a new film from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE explores 1967’s Summer of Racial Unrest and LBJ’s Commission created to explain it.

Troops on Detroit’s Linwood Avenue in 1967. Credit: © Tony Spina/Detroit Free Press via ZUMA Press


“The simple fact is this: We are in the worst crisis we have known since the Civil War,” said a television journalist in September 1967.

When Black neighborhoods across America erupted in violence in the summer of 1967, President Johnson appointed a commission to find the cause for the unrest.

Johnson hoped the commissioners would find evidence of outside agitation––ideally, by Communist-aligned advocates of Black Power––and would draw conclusions that both acknowledged his significant civil rights achievements and shored up support for his ambitious social agenda.

Few contemporary observers expected the bi-partisan Kerner Commission to deliver meaningful answers.

American Experience Executive Producer Cameo George says, “The Kerner Commission’s unanimous and blistering report put a spotlight on what was at the heart of structural racism and inequality in America. The findings of this dedicated and bipartisan group remain relevant in today’s America, and we hope our film adds some much-needed context to the ongoing national conversation.”

The final report, issued in March of 1968, offered a shockingly unvarnished assessment of American race relations––a verdict so politically explosive that Johnson not only refused to acknowledge it publicly but even to thank the commissioners for their service.

The Riot Report explores this pivotal moment in the nation’s history and the fraught social dynamics that simultaneously spurred the commission’s investigation and doomed its findings to political oblivion.

"American Experience: The Riot Report" premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. on APT/PBS or stream it on the PBS App.

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