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During the late 1960s, black urban disturbances rocked cities around the United States. These rebellions, frequently sparked by police violence, reached a fever pitch in July 1967 when massive disturbances occurred in Detroit and Newark. In the aftermath of that “long hot summer,” President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) concluded that the rebellions stemmed from patterns of racism that had splintered black and white America into two separate and unequal societies. Yet many Americans viewed the rebellions as unlawful outbursts of misconduct and violence. As post-1960s black civil disturbances in such cities as Miami (1980); Los Angeles (1992) and Cincinnati (2001) have demonstrated, social inequalities and partisan fragmentation along racial and class lines have remained persistent, making the watershed events of 1967 as pertinent today as ever.

This summer institute, which will take place during the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit and Newark upheavals, will consider longstanding questions of race, equity, and social justice that continue to shape current events, and explore historical and contemporary interpretations of their causes. What circumstances sparked these urban disturbances? What is the cultural and political significance of the nomenclature applied to them? That is, what is the import of referring to these occurrences as “protests,” “riots,” “rebellions” or “revolts,” or simply “civil disturbances” or “disorders?” Further, which segments or groups in black urban communities participated in these events, and how did gender influence their participation? Were patterns of male and female involvement varied or similar? What were their motivations, perceptions, feelings and goals, and the stories they told about them? How did these activities either challenge or confirm popular ideas about black communities, especially regarding black households and families headed by women? Were these moments of social rupture organized or largely spontaneous? How did the larger American public view them, and how did this view change with time? And ultimately, what did the “rebellions” accomplish?

The institute will offer participants multiple interpretative frameworks and opportunities for assessment using various forms of historical evidence. What relationship do these incidents have with what came to be known popularly as the “urban crisis?” How were the incidents perceived by different segments of the public, and by their leaders? Given the patterns of racial-spatial ordering that have emerged in US metropolitan areas since the 1960s, are the conditions giving rise to black urban disturbances today qualitatively different than those in the past? Have public attitudes about such events evolved? Moreover, can placing these civil disturbances in a larger international context affect their meaning? These and similar questions continue to puzzle or concern many Americans, and thus it is critically important that teachers in secondary education be prepared to address them.