Beyond Civil Rights

Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy

Daniel Geary
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Beyond Civil Rights
    Book Description:

    Shortly after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Daniel Patrick Moynihan authored a government report titledThe Negro Family: A Case for National Actionthat captured the attention of President Lyndon Johnson. Responding to the demands of African American activists that the United States go beyond civil rights to secure economic justice, Moynihan thought his analysis of black families highlighted socioeconomic inequality. However, the report's central argument that poor families headed by single mothers inhibited African American progress touched off a heated controversy. The long-running dispute over Moynihan's conclusions changed how Americans talk about race, the family, and poverty.

    Fifty years after its publication, the Moynihan Report remains a touchstone in contemporary racial politics, cited by President Barack Obama and Congressman Paul Ryan among others.Beyond Civil Rightsoffers the definitive history of the Moynihan Report controversy. Focusing on competing interpretations of the report from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, Geary demonstrates its significance for liberals, conservatives, neoconservatives, civil rights leaders, Black Power activists, and feminists. He also illustrates the pitfalls of discussing racial inequality primarily in terms of family structure.Beyond Civil Rightscaptures a watershed moment in American history that reveals the roots of current political divisions and the stakes of a public debate that has extended for decades.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9152-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION. Crisis of Equality
    (pp. 1-11)

    In his 2006 bestsellerThe Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama praised the Moynihan Report, which famously predicted that female-headed families would impede African American progress after the passage of civil rights legislation. Obama repeated a common account of the controversy sparked by the 1965 report: “Moynihan was accused of racism… when he raised alarms about the rise of out-of-wedlock births among the black poor.” Responding to the most famous criticism of the report—that it “blamed the victim”—Obama portrayed the uproar against Moynihan as a telling example of how “liberal policy-makers and civil rights leaders had erred” when “in...

  4. CHAPTER 1 The Liberal Mindset
    (pp. 12-41)

    Could anyone have imagined that Daniel Patrick Moynihan would make his name with a report about black families? He had no long-standing interest in the subject. He was not an acknowledged expert on race; paradoxically, writing the report made him one. He worked for the U.S. Department of Labor, an agency hardly associated with research on race or the family.

    Until the civil rights movement forced African American in equality onto the national agenda, it was not a central issue for Moynihan or many other Northern liberals. Yet, when the civil rights movement’s cresting tide pushed policy-makers to address racial...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Negro Equality—Dream or Delusion?
    (pp. 42-78)

    “Negroes must be free in order to be equal and they must be equal in order to be free…. Men cannot win freedom unless they win equality.”¹ So declared African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph in 1944. Randolph’s March on Washington movement during World War II was the inspiration for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Hundreds of thousands of mostly black protestors came to the nation’s capital to claim civil and economic rights. Marchers’ signs called for “jobs for all” and “decent pay,” expressing the civil rights movement’s long-standing demand for economic equality. The “dream”...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The New Racism
    (pp. 79-109)

    “You must have written the Report in disappearing ink,” White House aide Harry McPherson mused in a 1966 letter to Moynihan, “making it possible for people to write into it what ever they choose.”¹ WhenThe Negro Familybecame public in late summer 1965, it invited divergent reactions. Liberals hailed it as promising new initiatives to alleviate economic in equality, while conservatives thought it proved African Americans should rely on their own efforts. Some segregationists took it as support for their worldview, while others wrote Moynihan hate mail accusing him of racial treason. Early critics worried that the Moynihan Report...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Death of White Sociology
    (pp. 110-138)

    “It is amazing,” wrote Ralph Ellison in 1967, “how often white liberals, possessing little firsthand knowledge of any area of society other than their own, eagerly presume to interpret Negro life.” The Moynihan Report prompted the celebrated African American novelist to challenge the cultural authority of white intellectuals whose claims of “instant knowledge” about African Americans gained wide acceptance through “some mystique of whiteness.” “[L]ike absentee owners of tenement buildings,” he claimed, white liberals such as Moynihan “exploit the abstract sociological ‘Negro’ as a facile means of getting ahead in the world.”¹ Ellison’s meta phor of economic exploitation highlighted the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Feminism and the Nuclear Family Norm
    (pp. 139-171)

    In 1970, African American poet June Jordan wrote “Memo to Daniel Pretty Moynihan”:

    You done what you done

    I do what I can

    Don’t you liberate me

    From my female black pathology

    I been working off my knees

    I been drinking what I please

    And when I vine

    I know I’m fine

    I mean

    All right for each and every Friday night

    But you been screwing me so long

    I got a idea something’s wrong

    with you

    I got a simple proposition

    You takeover my position

    Clean your own house, babyface.¹

    A crucial figure in the Black Feminist movement, Jordan...

  9. CHAPTER 6 From National Action to Benign Neglect
    (pp. 172-205)

    In January 1969, President-elect Richard Nixon received a memo from a Democrat who would soon join his administration, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Applying ideas he developed inThe Negro Family, Moynihan warned Nixon, “Among a large and growing lower class, self-reliance, self-discipline, and industry are waning” as “general pathology appears to be infecting the Puerto Rican as well as the Negro.” He observed, “Families are [becoming] more and more matrifocal.” Criticizing Great Society liberalism, Moynihan jettisoned his earlier focus on male unemployment: “Much of what is now termed ‘the crisis of the cities’ is more a moral and cultural crisis than...

  10. EPILOGUE. A Mixed Legacy
    (pp. 206-224)

    The Moynihan Report’s legacy is as mixed as its contents. It continued to incite a wide range of reactions after the 1970s. Nearly all interpretations of the report surfaced by the mid-1970s, indicating the crucial long-term impact the first de cade after the 1964 Civil Rights Act had on American racial discourse. To trace the controversy past the 1970s is largely to witness the tedious rehashing of the same arguments. Nevertheless, the 1980s saw the controversy revitalized and reframed as public discussion of “the black family” increased to explain persistent racial in equality. As in the 1960s, interpreters divided over...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 225-266)
    (pp. 267-268)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 269-274)
    (pp. 275-276)