The Kerner Report: 50 Years Later

In the aftermath of the 1967 urban “riots”, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois. The 11-member commission examined the conditions of the cities that led to the turmoil and made recommendations addressing the underlying causes. The Commission’s report, released on February 29, 1968, marks a pivotal moment in the changing dynamics of U.S. cities and of critical analysis of the role of race as a division in America.

Special guest speaker former senator Fred Harris is an original member of the Kerner Commission – and the last surviving member. Elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Oklahoma in 1964, Senator Harris quickly became one of the most active members of the senate and was deeply concerned about the plight of economically deprived inner-city African Americans, recognizing that unequal treatment of urban neighborhoods was one of the determining factors in the 1967 unrest.

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GCI Staff Weigh In on African-American Unemployment in Illinois

Source: Lynne Sladky / AP.

At 6.8%, the national Black unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1972. As shown in a recent Chicago Tribune article, however, the unemployment rate for Black Americans is nearly double that of whites (3.7%). In Illinois, the Black unemployment rate is 10%, the highest of any state in the U.S.

As supported by recent GCI research, Illinois’ lagging economy has disproportionately affected its Black citizens. According to recent research led by GCI Director Teresa Córdova and Economic Development Planner Matt Wilson, over 40% of young Black men in Chicago between age 20 – 24 are unemployed and out of school. While this percent has declined over recent years (from 45.7% in 2014 to 42.8% in 2015), it speaks to the spatial isolation and lack of economic activity in many of Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods, which rarely see the economic gains of the Loop and much of the region.

Córdova says she sees “little rays of hope” that should be built on, meaning: more job training and economic development activity as the economy expands. “If you live in the Loop, this feels really exciting. If you are still living on the corner of Loomis and 63rd, what’s it like over there?”

Read the Full Story here. »

GCI Senior Associate Nik Theodore Cited on Workers’ Rights Study Following ICE Sweep

Following recent expanded inspections by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration reformers and workers’ rights advocates continue to debate the best path forward for employers and employees following widespread work site enforcement by ICE.

A Houston Chronicle column explaining the expanded inspections also highlighted the plight of undocumented workers, citing GCI Senior Associate Nik Theodore’s research on Houston’s day labor markets and associated wage theft following Hurricane Harvey.

Houston employers constantly complain of a labor shortage, which is why some hire unauthorized workers. Currently, unscrupulous employers hire immigrants to underpay them so they can make lower bids and win more contracts. More than a quarter of day laborers in Houston say they were cheated out of promised wages, according to a study published in November by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dr. Theodore’s 2017 study is of renewed importance following the uptick in immigration inspections, as it continues to raise awareness of many employers’ illegal actions towards undocumented workers.

Read the full article here. »

GCI Director Dr. Teresa Córdova on Chicago’s “Year of Creative Youth”

Dr. Teresa Córdova, director of UIC’s Great Cities Institute, is quoted in a Gazette Chicago newspaper story on a City of Chicago arts initiative centered around youth cultural programming and support.

Led by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the City of Chicago is investing over $2 million into youth arts programs this year, naming 2018 the Year of Creative Youth. Funding will support youth art initiatives, fund youth performances at citywide festivals and events, and provide grant funding for youth arts organizations.

Leaders expect this initiative to bolster Chicago’s existing cultural programming and aid educators who foster the development of Chicago’s future cultural and economic growth. As a culminating event, the City will host a new Creative Youth Festival at Millennium Park on Sept. 22; the event will feature performances and displays by young artists in dance, music, theater, spoken word, visual arts, and other artistic endeavors.

Teresa Córdova, director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a professor of Urban Planning and Policy at UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, called the project “a marvelous idea,” adding that “When I think of building on young people’s creativity and their sense of innovation, all kinds of things will be possible, including developing economic opportunities.”

Read the Full Story here. »

Commemoration of the Release of the Kerner Commission Report: Fifty Years Later

Detroit, July 1967. Source: Lee Balterman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

On February 29, 1968, the report from the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was released. The commission and the report was named after its Chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois. Please join us on March 1, 2018 to commemorate the release of the 1968 Kerner Commission Report with the last remaining original member of the Commission, Dr. Fred Harris.

In 1965, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, rioting erupted after an incident with police. Two years later, in June of 1967, riots erupted in several cities across the nation including Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Tampa.  In July of 1967, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, New Britain (Connecticut), Rochester and Plainfield (New Jersey).  Most notable were the rebellions in Newark and Detroit. In Detroit, for example, police action precipitated five days of unrest during which time the national guard and U.S. airborne divisions were added to the mix.

In the aftermath of the long, hot summer of 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The 11-member commission examined the conditions of the cities that led to the turmoil and made recommendations addressing the underlying causes. The Commission’s report, released on February 29, 1968, marks a pivotal moment in the changing dynamics of U.S. cities and of critical analysis of the role of race as a division in America.

The Great Cities Institute is proud to host activities to commemorate the February 29, 1968 release of the Kerner Commission Report.  More details will follow, but please mark your calendar for March 1, to welcome our special guest speaker, former U.S. Senator Fred Harris, an original member of the Kerner Commission – and the last surviving member. Elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Oklahoma in 1964, Senator Harris quickly became one of the most active members of the U.S. Senate and was deeply concerned about the conditions for inner-city African Americans, recognizing that unequal treatment of urban neighborhoods was one of the determining factors in the 1967 unrest.

Dr. Harris will speak on March 1, 2018 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. at Student Center East, 750 South Halsted. Look for more details on the event and other activities associated with the commemoration.

We hope that you had a pleasant holiday season and wish you a good year.

Kari Moe and Robert Giloth: Remembering Mayor Harold Washington

On April 29, 1983, Mayor Harold Washington was sworn in as the first African American Mayor of Chicago by Charles E. Freeman, Justice of the Appellate Court of Illinois. The inaugural ceremony was held at the Navy Pier. (Source: Chicago Public Library Special Collections and Preservation Division)

The following is a guest blog post by former Mayor Washington administration members Kari Moe and Robert Giloth.

Countless numbers of people remember precisely where they were the day Harold died. This is one measure of his profound and enduring legacy. Harold’s memory is imprinted on our psyche. Thirty years ago seems like yesterday.

Harold’s courage stands out for us. Born in 1922, Harold Washington experienced the Depression and brutal segregation on the streets of Chicago. He served in World War II, only to return to Jim Crow policies of separate and unequal. A gifted speaker and leader, he became the President of his Roosevelt College (now University) senior class in 1948, participated in Civil Rights sit ins and demonstrations, and became one of the first African-American law students at Northwestern University. Harold accomplished many “firsts” of his generation as he fought for equality and confronted the barriers of racism in America.

Elected to the Illinois legislature in 1964, Harold emerged as an independent and skilled legislator. The Chicago political machine labeled him a maverick, but he stood up to them and won re-election on his own terms, leading to successful service in the Illinois Senate. Ultimately he won the seat to represent Chicago’s First Congressional District in the Congress in 1980.

When Congressman Harold Washington took the stage to challenge States Attorney Richard Daley and Mayor Jane Byrne in the1982 Mayoral primary debate, it was less than 20 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Harold’s Mayoral campaign was fueled by defiance against decades of oppression by the Chicago political machine. His speeches—during his campaign and his mayoralty—called out the damaging legacy of racism in Chicago.  He promised to “stomp on the grave” of machine patronage.

His campaign was also energized by Chicagoans’ hopes for a fairer city and more opportunity for their children. As Harold was fond of saying, “No corner of Chicago will be safe from my fairness”.  His vision was considered radical.

The campaign against Harold was a no-holds-barred racist campaign, including leaflets depicting him as an animal, among other hateful epithets and images. His opponent’s slogan was “Epton: Before It’s Too Late”. Harold withstood these attacks, and built a shrewd, multi-racial grassroots campaign that catapulted him to the 5thFloor of City Hall.

Harold governed with the courage of a reformer well ahead of his time. He was committed to diverse representation in his Cabinet appointments, which he achieved. He set up a Mayoral Advisory Committee on Gay and Lesbian Affairs, and worked actively to build bridges with the Latino, Asian American and Arab American communities. His budget distributed funds and programs throughout the city to long-neglected neighborhoods.

Harold stood up to his enemies in the City Council, and fought for neighborhood interests to be balanced against the demands of downtown developers. He stood steadfastly for fairness and redistribution in jobs, appointments, budgets and contracts, against great opposition. Every day was an exercise of Harold’s courage.

On this anniversary of Harold’s death when we remember the exact moment of heartbreak, we remain inspired by his vision and love for Chicago. From President Barack Obama to the thousands of people who stood for hours in the cold rain and wept while waiting to pay their last respects, Harold changed his city and our lives for the better.

What does this moment call on us to do?  We imagine Harold would remind us that each era calls us to be courageous in the face of oppression. He would tell us that the right to vote and democracy are precious institutions we must protect and expand. He would call on us to speak for justice, and raise young leaders to carry his work forward.

Let’s work to honor Harold’s memory by continuing his work far into the future.

About the Authors:  Kari Moe served in Mayor Washington’s administration in various positions including Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development, Chief of Staff to the Development Subcabinet and Assistant to the Mayor for Community Services. She was the Director of Research and Issues during the 83-83 Mayoral campaign. Robert Giloth served as a Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development. 

Press Coverage of Nik Theodore’s “After the Storm” Continues

Source: Latino USA / Justin Sullivan.

GCI Senior Associate Nik Theodore has released a new report that examines the employment conditions of informally employed construction workers in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. Dr. Theodore, a UPP Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs, found that 26% of Houston’s post-hurricane day laborers (so-called “second responders”) experienced wage theft in the weeks following the storm. Others were exposed to environmental toxins and unsafe working conditions. Since many day laborers are undocumented immigrants, they were not able to report many unsafe and illegal practices to local authorities.

The report, “After the Storm: Houston’s Day Labor Markets in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” has been noted by media outlets across the country, including the following:

The Washington Post

The Guardian

Houston Public Media

Houston Chronicle

Latino USA

La Opinion


Freshwater Lab Founder Rachel Havrelock Interviewed on Humanitarian Aspects of Water Issues

Source: Great Lakes Now.

UIC English professor Rachel Havrelock has brought a unique humanitarian approach to water resource issues through her creation of UIC’s Freshwater Lab.

The goal of the Freshwater Lab (which is affiliated with GCI and CUPPA) is to educate the public on a range of water issues.

“We’re in this moment, regrettably, where there’s a lot of debate about the validity of science,” Havrelock told Great Lakes Now in an interview in the Institute for Humanities on the Chicago campus. “While we’re embroiled in that debate we can’t forget we’ve got to communicate to the public about pressing water issues and how they can get involved in actionable ways from the personal to the political,” she said.

The Lab recently launched a Freshwater Stories initiative aimed at communicating the pressing issues about Lake Michigan to the public. Each story highlights an issue such as infrastructure and environmental justice and is written by a professional in the field. The story format is designed to leave the reader with more than just the weight of the issue. It will provide options for the reader to get involved.

Professor Havrelock’s full interview with Great Lakes Now is available here.>>

UIC Professor Rachel Weber Weighs in on CPS School Closings

Source: Paula Friedrich / WBEZ.


Rachel Weber, UIC professor of urban planning and policy, was interviewed in a WBEZ news story on Chicago Public Schools’ enrollment decline and whether the system may need to close more schools next year when a self-imposed five-year moratorium ends.

Per the WBEZ analysis,

Chicago Public Schools has lost 32,000 students over the last five years, nearly the same enrollment drop as in the 10-year period leading up to the closures of 50 elementary schools in 2013. Those missing students could fill 53 average-sized Chicago schools. This massive enrollment decline comes as a self-imposed five-year moratorium on school closings lifts in 2018.

The school system must announce by Dec. 1 any proposed closures for its more than 600 schools. Officials have already indicated they will recommend closing only a handful of schools for next year, the first without the moratorium. But there’s little doubt CPS faces a major enrollment and utilization problem once again, just five years after the mass closings.

Given the continued decline in enrollment, CPS is facing difficult choices of further closures and reorganization. Having studied the district’s school closures in the past, Weber hopes “that CPS has some more creative ideas for how to deal with this problem than just radical surgery.”

Read the full story here. »