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During the past two years the United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Commission's State Advisory Committees have held hearings and open meetings in many of the Nation's urban areas. The hearings and meetings, held pursuant to the jurisdiction conferred upon the Commission by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, as amended, have been designed to study and collect information concerning the extent to which conditions in Negro slum ghettos and Mexican American "barrios," or the actions or inaction of Federal, State and local governments with respect to such conditions, constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws because of race, color or national origin. They have served also to appraise the adequacy of Federal laws and policies to secure equal protection of the laws for persons living in these areas and have provided a forum for the dissemination of information concerning the denial of equal protection.
Commission hearings were held in four Metropolitan areas: Cleveland, Rochester, Boston and San Francisco-Oakland. In Cleveland, most of the testimony was heard in the Liberty Hill Baptist Church, located in the Hough ghetto. State Advisory Committee open meetings were held in Los Angeles, Newark, Boston, Gary, Atlanta, Nashville, Peoria, Oakland, Houston, New York City and Memphis.
The testimony-generally given by residents of slum ghettos or persons who deal with ghetto problems daily-often was vivid and provided insights into what slum residents think and feel about the conditions in which they live, about white people, about government, and about American society. Emerging from the testimony is a picture of ghetto life which affords possible answers to questions sometimes asked by white people about minority groups, i.e., What do they want? Why don't they work? Why can't they, like early immigrant groups, simply better their condition and move out of slum areas through personal effort? The testimony also has assisted the Commission in understanding the nature and magnitude of the commitment this Nation must make if it is to remedy the economic and social injustice reflected in the Commission hearings and Advisory Committee meetings.
An explanation of the Commission's factfinding techniques may be helpful to an understanding of this report.
To obtain relevant information, the Commission holds hearings to which it may subpena witnesses and documents. All testimony is given under oath. The 51 State Advisory Committees appointed by the Commission may hold open meetings to which citizens and public officials are invited to present their views on the problems within the Commission's jurisdiction. The hearings and open meetings are held after extensive field investigations by the Commission staff.
Months in advance of the Commission hearings staff members conducted interviews with many persons representing various economic and social levels in the areas under investigation. In this process they talked with people holding widely differing views. In all, more than 2,000 individuals were interviewed during preparations for the hearings in Cleveland and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. For the hearings in Rochester and Boston several hundred people were interviewed in each city. People interviewed included residents of the ghetto, some who were in school and some who had dropped out, some who were working and some who were unemployed, some who were articulate and some who had difficulty in expressing their feelings, some who were on welfare and some who were not. In addition, interviews were conducted with members of civil rights groups and civic organizations, businessmen, school teachers and administrators, police officials, sociologists, psychiatrists, and elected and appointed officials at the Federal, State and local levels. In each city studied, staff members attended public meetings and visited schools, churches, bars, pool halls, lodge halls, grocery stores and barber shops to meet and interview people.
The witnesses who testified at the hearings were selected to enable the Commission to explore the most significant issues resulting from the interviews. The Commission heard testimony from a variety of witnesses with a wide range of views.
This report summarizes the testimony given at the hearings and open meetings. It is hoped that in this way, the testimony will be brought to the attention of a wider audience than would be reached by the transcripts of the proceedings.
Because of the limitations of time, each hearing or open meeting was devoted to selected topics. Thus, the Cleveland hearing in April 1966 consisted of five days of testimony concerning housing, health, welfare, education, employment and police-community relations. The Rochester and Boston hearings in the fall of 1966 were limited to testimony about equal educational opportunities for Negroes in those cities. At the San Francisco Bay Area hearing in the spring of 1967, the Commission sought to explore in a metropolitan context a wide range of prob
lems in the fields of housing and employment for minority groups. Because of such limitations, some important issues only are touched lightly or not at all. Often the discussion of issues is not as exhaustive as would be expected of a research study. Nevertheless, certain problems emerged with sufficient clarity from the recent hearings and open meetings to warrant bringing them to public attention in this report. In selecting quotations from lengthy transcripts, the Commission was guided by the need for a concise report. Only major topics and themes are covered. Interested readers will find further details in the full, original transcripts of the Commission hearings which are available to the public. Transcripts of the State Advisory Committee meetings may be inspected in the Commission's office.
Most of the testimony in this report is presented to show what people are thinking and feeling. The views presented, except as otherwise indicated, are those of the witnesses, not of the Commission. The Commission believes nevertheless that the subjective views of people directly affected by or dealing with ghetto conditions merit the close attention of the American people. What people think about the conditions in which they find themselves often is as important as the actual conditions.
The nature of the Commission hearings and State Advisory Committee meetings permitted slum residents and those who work with them to discuss their problems candidly in a dispassionate atmosphere. The public and its elected representatives, through listening to these voices, may obtain a better understanding of the conditions and the problems as they exist or are perceived in the cities of the Nation.
"... all we can see is darkness ahead"
"I Felt Like I Was in a Cage"
When they have to get out on the street at 14 or 15 they consider themselves to be a man and are going to take on some responsibility because he is the only man in the house and he has little brothers and sisters in the house and he sees his mother and brothers and sisters going hungry, half starving and trying to get the rent in. It is a bare house, like it is a cold feeling even to be there and you have to go out on the street and become the subject of the same thing out there. There has to be a breaking point." James A. Richards, a Negro youth with a prison record, helped stop the disorder which raged in San Francisco's Hunters Point for several days in 1966. He told the Commission:
One minute we are looking ahead and we think we see
The Hunters Point riot, he said:
wasn't a major thing. It was just an idea to strike out at something and someone. Even if you don't do anything but break a window or a chair or something like this, you feel that you are hurting a white man or something like this because the white man is the one that is doing everything to you that causes you to have all these problems on
Charles Evans, an unemployed resident of Boston's South End slum, told the Commission's Massachusetts State Advisory Committee: