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Church must use its power to fight racism.

In March 1958, the commission appointed by President Johnson to investigate the race riots in Detroit, Newark and elsewhere issued its final report. Twenty-five years later, on March 1, a commission appointed by the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation updated the 1968 report.

The new 340-page report can only be described as grim. It confirms the shattering prediction of 1968 that America is becoming "two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal."

The new report received only modest coverage in the media. Perhaps the nation does not want to hear anything more about the causes of the race riots in Los Angeles or the miseries suffered by 10 percent of America's population who are trapped in urban ghettos, living in conditions that have not improved over the past quarter century.

In the 1968 hearings, the eminent black scholar Dr. Kenneth D. Clark referred to the investigations of the 1919 riots in Chicago, the Harlem riot of 1943 and the Watts riot of 1965. Clark noted that "it is a lot of Alice in Wonderland . . . the same analysis, the same recommendations and the same inaction."

The new report states that $10 billion in additional funds each year to HUD would be necessary even to return that agency to the funding level of 1980. It is also pointed out that Congress gave a $1.3 billion package to Los Angeles after the riots but that President Bush vetoed a more significant bill for Los Angeles and the country the day after the election because the measure contained some tax increases.

The bottom line: The country has done almost nothing in response to the L.A. riots -- as it failed to act after the upheavals of 1967 and 1968.

The new report does have some encouraging news. It praises work like that of Monsignor William Linder in Newark's inner city and the impressive contribution of Sister Isolina Ferre in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

The report calls for the expenditure of $300 billion over 10 years to invest in children and to reconstruct America's cities. The report is cool to "enterprise zones" but high on Head Start, job training and a commitment of 70 percent of antidrug funds for prevention and treatment -- a reversal of the 70 percent now spent on law enforcement.

One reads this report almost with despair. Will the United States ever offer justice to its 29 million citizens of African ancestry? Will America ever face the fact that for 335 years blacks were given an inferior status by the law of the land? How long will it take to wipe out that stigma and erase completely the prejudice against blacks that even the U.S. Supreme Court told whites to maintain?

Every reader of this sobering report will hope that America's religious bodies can conquer bias based on race. One is reminded that the Catholic presence in the inner cities -- where some 25 million people reside in isolation and suffering -- is strong, sometimes pervasive. Tens of thousands of African-American children attend Catholic schools, although only three or four percent of all back Americans are Catholics.

In the last 25 years, Catholics in America have attained an impressive maturity and sophistication. They have a moral and political power unthought of when the original report appeared. The time has come to employ and exploit that power to bring justice to every eighth American who traces his or her ancestry to Africa.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 19, 1993
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