Moynihan Report Still a Source of Controversy

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On June 4, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson delivered his commencement address at Howard University — one of the most famous speeches of his presidency. Given shortly after he sent the Voting Rights Act to Congress, and almost a year after he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it laid out a vision of his administration's civil rights goals. But most people now many remember it for one thing: its emphasis on what then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan termed "the breakdown of the Negro family structure."

The speech, drafted by Moynihan, was heavily based on his study "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," better known as the Moynihan Report. It is a source of tremendous controversy to this day, with many arguing that it offers little more than an implicitly racist "blame the victim" critique, and many others arguing that it offers a clear-eyed and prescient account of a pernicious social ill.

James T. Patterson, the Ford Foundation professor of history emeritus at Brown University, has written about the study in his book "Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle Over Black Family Life from LBJ to Obama," which is being released next week.


James T. Patterson

Comments [1]


The controversy surrounding the Moynihan Report came from the emphasis put on a symptom rather than its cause, which cause President Johnson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan sought to address. Politics of the time prevented the realization of their vision. Exactly why and how can be explained by Professor Ira Katznelson, the Ruggles professor of political science and history at Columbia University. I think journalistic integrity demands this much needed context and counterpoint to the audio clips added to your interview of Professor Patterson.

Mar. 27 2012 10:43 PM

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