179. Message From the United States Information Agency to All Principal United States Information Service Posts1

Infoguide 68–22


  • The Urban Crisis in the United States


  • Summary Infoguide No. 68-20 (USIA circular telegram No. 8448 of March 1, 1968), “Report on Civil Disorders.”2


From now until the summer of 1968 is over we can expect constant headlines about the urban crisis, and the problems arising from Negro-white relations, in the United States.

There are at least four focal points of attention which have been, and will continue to be, widely publicized in the United States. The foreign press will probably devote considerable attention to them, especially when they generate events with high dramatic impact. Those focal points are:

(1) Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.3

President Johnson appointed this Commission on July 29, 1967, to find the causes of urban riots in the U.S., and to recommend solutions. The Commission made public its 1,485-page report on March 2, 1968.

The hard-hitting report made national headlines, and is receiving international attention, because of its uncompromising language and its concentration on problems that remain unsolved in the Negro centers of American cities where riots occurred in 1967.4 The report touches only lightly on the positive aspects, such as the recent record of Negro [Page 574] progress, the expansion of antipoverty programs, and recent proposals to the Congress by the President.5

The report emphasized the following basic causes for the riots: white racism, which led to Negro belligerence; pervasive anti-Negro discrimination and segregation; massive and growing concentration of impoverished Negroes in the city centers, caused by a combination of high birth rate among urban Negroes, white exodus from cities, and Negro immigration from the rural American south; frustrated hopes of the poor and the jobless in city slums; the feeling of powerlessness among many Negro Americans, manifested in various “black power” movements.

The report contains a long series of recommendations for action, much of which has already been submitted to Congress by the President.

(2) The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” now scheduled for April 22 in Washington, D.C.6

Dr. King expects to bring thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the city when Congress reconvenes after its Easter recess. King’s group will be demonstrating for jobs and more antipoverty funds. If “black power”7 groups manage to gain control of this campaign, and there are violent confrontations at the Capitol or in front of the White House, the foreign press is likely to give prominence to the resulting pictures and stories.

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(3) Negro Boycott of Olympics Scheduled for Mexico City, Oct. 12–27.8

Various “black power” groups have been agitating for months among Negro American athletes, urging a boycott of the Olympics in Mexico. This effort will probably be heightened because of the International Olympic Committee’s recent readmission of South Africa to the Olympic Games and the subsequent declaration of many African nations that they intend to withdraw from the games. The campaign will probably intensify as the date of the games draws near. If this coincides with summer rioting, the campaign could have a strong negative effect abroad.

(4) Summer Riots.

There is already considerable speculation in the media, both at home and overseas, about the possibility of riots in the U.S. this summer. The elements which led to riots in 1967 are still present—the crowded slums, high unemployment among Negro youths who are in the forefront of the rioters, Negro resentment of whites fanned by a growing number of “black power” groups, white fear of Negro violence.9


In line with standing guidance, media will report developments factually, and reflect responsible commentary and opinion on these developments.

Riots, boycotts and demonstrations in the U.S. make headlines. The steady, day-to-day progress in American race relations on many fronts does not. Without denying the serious situation in American cities, we seek to place the crisis in the context of continuing progress toward eliminating its causes. We must heighten foreign awareness of important constructive development demonstrating the sustained efforts of the President, many members of Congress, and diverse elements of American society.

We should:

(1) Remind all audiences that the United States is an open society which is constantly examining its weaknesses and its shortcomings, [Page 576] often with brutal candor. For example, the Commission on Civil Disorders was personally appointed by the President to make recommendations on America’s greatest item of unfinished domestic business, the racial-urban crisis. He did not ask for a whitewash, or for praise of progress made so far. He asked for the hard facts about the crisis, and the Commission reported them (see ANNEX for pertinent comment from the Ghanaian Times of March 2, 1968).10

(2) Point out that the U.S. Government is fully aware of the urban crisis. Cite the President’s statement in his January 17, 1968, State of the Union Message:

“In our cities last summer, we saw how wide is the gulf for some Americans between the promise and the reality of our society.”11

And in the President’s comprehensive message of February 22, 1968, to Congress on “The Crisis of the Cities” (see Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 4, No. 8, pp. 325–341)12 he began by saying:

“Today, America’s cities are in crisis. This clear and urgent warning rises from the decay of decades—and is amplified by the harsh realities of the present.”

Draw on the latter message for the specific programs he recommended. In addition to programs already in effect (job training, Job Corps, Head Start, VISTA, Community Action, aid to education, and others), the President is pressing hard for new programs (expanded low-cost housing, model cities) which will improve life in the troubled American cities. The report of the Commission on Civil Disorders supports, repeats, and expands many of the President’s recommendations to Congress on housing, employment and urban development. That report may help to muster support for his programs to ease the urban and racial crisis.

(3) Acquaint audiences with the magnitude and complexity of the task of absorbing into the mainstream of American urban life the millions of unprepared, undereducated Negro Americans from the rural south who have migrated to the cities in recent years. Make audiences aware of the crushing demand this migration has made on the cities for housing, education and jobs. The Commission’s report cites the following figures: About 3.5 million Negroes migrated from the south [Page 577] to northern cities during the past 25 years; the percentage of Negroes in the central cities rose from 12 per cent in 1950 to 17 per cent in 1960, to 20 per cent in 1966, and it is still rising; since 1960, Negro population has doubled in six major cites.

(4) Point out that Negro protests today are stimulated to a large degree by the revolution of rising expectations which many Negro Americans have experienced; that the successful integration of large numbers of Negroes into the political, economic and cultural life of the nation has intensified the despair and frustration of the millions of untrained, poorly educated Negroes who remain in the urban slums; and that “Great Society” programs—of education, job training and placement, and community action—are designed to give Negroes and others who are below the poverty line increasing opportunity to participate fully in American life.

(5) Place in historical and worldwide context the civil rights revolution and the fight against discrimination in the U.S. Minorities exist throughout the world; securing equality for them is a worldwide problem. The U.S., a veritable nation of minorities, has probably made as much progress as any nation in solving the problems of its minorities. It now faces the most critical minority problem in its history—the need to eliminate deep damage caused by centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and prejudice; and to help the Negro minority achieve the higher living standards of the rest of the nation. (See ANNEX for pertinent excerpts from a March 4, 1968, speech by Vice President Humphrey.)

(6) Without denying that racial prejudices and shibboleths exacerbate the problem of adjusting rural and unskilled migrants to American city life, seek to show that the migrants’ difficulties and discontents are comparable to those of new urbanites throughout the world who have migrated to cities faster than jobs have been created there.

(7) Remind audiences that the President and the entire Executive Branch are committed, without reservation, to the elimination of discrimination and segregation from American life; that many recent developments show the will of important, diverse segments of the American majority to eliminate slums and improve substandard conditions. Among such developments:

(a) The massive increase in recent years in Federal programs to attack these basic problems. (The Executive Branch is asking Congress for $22 billion for housing, anti-poverty, education, and urban renewal programs this year, in comparison with $9 billion in fiscal 1964.)13

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(b) The announcement on February 25, 1968, of the organization of the National Alliance of Businessmen under the chairmanship of Henry Ford II.14 This group of influential business executives is leading a drive to find 500,000 jobs for unskilled Negroes.

(c) The stepped-up activities of the Urban Coalition under the leadership of former HEW Secretary, John W. Gardner.15 The Urban Coalition is a nationwide federation of labor leaders, business executives, university presidents, religious leaders, and big-city mayors. It coordinates the efforts of private organizations to eliminate poverty and discrimination in the central cities, and stimulates public bodies to improve and expand ongoing programs.

(d) The agreement on February 2, 1968, between Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz and the building trades unions to make an all-out effort to bring young Negroes into the apprenticeship programs of these highly paid crafts.16

(8) Remind audiences that the legal basis of equal rights for Negro Americans has been firmly established. But the more complex and difficult steps toward full equality, while already in process, entail sustained, long-range national effort:

(a) To wipe out the educational, occupational, cultural, and psychological deficits which disadvantage the Negro American after centuries of discrimination and segregation.

(b) To eliminate the discriminatory practices and prejudices which still operate against him.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Subject Files 1955–1971: Acc. #74–0044, Entry UD WW 102, Box 2, INF 1 “America—1968, The Excitement and the Ordeal of Rapid Change.” Limited Official Use. Drafted by Glazer on March 8. Cleared by Wright and Pauker; approved by Ryan. Sent via pouch.
  2. A copy of Infoguide 68–20 is in the National Archives, RG 306, General Subject Files; 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 264, Box 313, Master Copies—1968.
  3. The Advisory Commission was also referred to as the “Kerner Commission,” named after its chairman, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner.
  4. See, for example, William Kling, “Why, What, When of Riots: Kerner Commission Tells Findings,” Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1968, p. 1; “Partial Text of Report by Civil Disorder Commission,” Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1968, p. 12; “Portents of a Hot Summer,” New York Times, March 3, 1968, p. E1; and “The Riot Report: Ghetto Discrimination Begins at Birth,” Washington Post, March 3, 1968, p. A1.
  5. Presumably a reference to proposals Johnson made in his January 24 Special Message to Congress on Civil Rights and his February 5 Special Message to Congress on Education. (Public Papers: Johnson, 1968–1969, Book I, pp. 55–62 and 165–172)
  6. The “Poor People’s Campaign” was postponed until April 29 due to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4. The march on and subsequent protest in Washington began on May 12. (Earl Caldwell, “Abernathy Pledges ‘Militant’ Drive for the Poor,” New York Times, April 19, 1968, p. 21; Earl Caldwell “Launch First Phase of Poor People’s Drive,” Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1968; Earl Caldwell, “Campaign of Poor Begins in Capital,” New York Times, April 30, 1968, p. 1; and Ben A. Franklin, “5,000 Open Poor People’s Campaign in Washington,” New York Times, May 13, 1968, p. 1) On May 1, representatives of the “Poor People’s Campaign,” along with its head Dr. Ralph Abernathy, met with Secretary Rusk to raise their grievances, which included United States policy in South Africa and other countries, AID policies, and immigration policies. Rusk responded to Abernathy and the group in a May 23 letter. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIV, Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues, Documents 330 and 331.
  7. This term was popularized by African American activists Stokely Carmichael, Willie Ricks, and others in 1966. Although the term encompassed a variety of ideologies, it generally referred to the advancement, self-determination, and political empowerment of African Americans. At a June 17, 1966, rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael stated “The only way we can change things in Mississippi is with the ballot. That’s black power.” (Gene Roberts, “Marchers Stage Mississippi Rally,” New York Times, June 18, 1966, p. 20)
  8. The proposed boycott did not occur because not enough of the African American athletes were willing to join, opting instead to avoid victory stand ceremonies and undertake other forms of protest at the Olympic games. Two African American Olympic athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were expelled from the remaining days of the Olympics after their protest demonstration at the awards ceremony on October 16. (C. Gerald Fraser, “Negroes Call Off Boycott, Reshape Olympic Protest,” New York Times, September 1, 1968, p. S1; “Why Boycott Failed Told by Edwards,” Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1968, p. B1; and “Two Negro Athletes Banished: Olympic Officials React to Protest,” Washington Post, October 19, 1968, p. A1)
  9. See Document 158.
  10. Attached, but not printed is the Annex, which includes excerpts from Humphrey’s speech, a summary of the Ghanaian Times March 2 commentary, and a listing of the Kerner Commission members.
  11. For the full text of Johnson’s State of the Union address, see Public Papers: Johnson, 1968–1969, Book I, pp. 25–33.
  12. The text of this message is also printed in Public Papers: Johnson, 1968–1969, Book I, pp. 248–263.
  13. In his message to Congress on “The Crisis of the Cities,” (see footnote 12, above) Johnson stressed: “No one can say how long it will take, or how much of our fortune will eventually be committed. For the problems we are dealing with are stubborn, entrenched and slow to yield. But we are moving on them—now—through more than a hundred programs, long and short range, making financial commitments of more than $22 billion to the task.” (Public Papers: Johnson, 1968–1969, Book I, pp. 249–250)
  14. See Roy Reed, “Top Businessmen Join U.S. Effort to Find More Jobs,” New York Times, February 25, 1968, p. 1.
  15. Gardner stepped down as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare on March 1. See also James Reston, “Gardner Will Head Private Campaign On Urban Poverty,” New York Times, February 14, 1968, p. 1.
  16. The agreement between Wirtz and the AFL–CIO unions was actually reached on February 13. (Neil Gilbride, “Trade Unions Agree to Stop Discrimination,” Washington Post, February 14, 1968, p. A6)
  17. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.