Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism

By Judith Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Tales of Lackawanna
and Sparrows Point:
Implementing the Kerner
Commission Report

In December 1967, the Justice Department filed a Title VII "pattern or practice" suit against the Bethlehem Steel mill in Lackawanna, New York. Six months later, the Office of Contract Compliance (ofcc) threatened to debar Bethlehem's Sparrows Point, Maryland, facility from bidding on government contracts under Executive Order 11246. By 1973, the prestigious Second Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling on the Lackawanna suit, and a Republican secretary of labor, deciding the case at Sparrows Point, agreed that southern remedies were necessary in the North.

The consensus reflected the extraordinary impact of the urban riots on elite sensibilities. The judgment that the United States was a racist society became widely accepted, certified by the blue-ribbon National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders ( Kerner Commission), which President Johnson created in July 1967 in the wake of insurrections in Newark and Detroit. The corollary of the judgment was that the nation's institutions were exemplary and worked for others, if not for blacks. Pressed to act, elites transported solutions fashioned in the South to the North. With racism as its sole critical category, riot-impelled solutions attempted to provide more jobs for blacks while leaving to the market and industry the task of supplying more work 1.

Racial conflict was an inevitable result of such solutions. Though blacks and whites, according to aggregate statistics, occupied different social and economic positions, people's lives do not always mesh with statistics. Many black

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