YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 8, 2015

The Moynihan Report (March 1965) and “instability” in “the black family”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan 1965

Daniel Patrick Moynihan 1965

This blog is about The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, written by sociologists Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey, published by MIT Press in 1966, the gist of which turned out to be fine tuning the interactions between social scientists and the administrative state to correct the pathology viewed as inherent in the “matriarchal,” hence deteriorating, “black family.”

The Moynihan Report, owing to its author’s later prominence, has been publicized recently here: http://www.biographile.com/daniel-patrick-moynihans-leap-into-the-racially-charged-1960s/43315/, and was partly excerpted on History News Network, 8-7-15.

Where did Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a minor figure in the Department of Labor in the Lyndon Johnson administration get his argument and the impetus to write what was initially an internal secret report (but later partially leaked to the press that made fun of the notion that the male animal was a rooster trained to strut). There were several drivers to the Report: the growing civil rights movement, the unrest exemplified in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and urban riots in 1964, and most importantly, the book authored by black political scientist E. Franklin Frazier in 1957. Here is an excerpt from Frazier quoted by the authors of the 1966 gloss on the Report and its mixed reception:

“The widespread disorganization of family life among Negroes has affected practically every aspect of their community life and adjustments to the larger white world. Because of the absence of stability…there is a lack of traditions…With a fourth to a third of Negro families in cities without a male head, many Negro children suffer the initial handicap of not having the discipline and authority of the father in the home. Negro mothers…are forced to neglect their children who pick up all forms of socially disapproved behavior in the disorganized areas in which these families are concentrated.

“…the public schools cannot make up for the deficiency in family training…Out of such an environment come the large number of criminals and juvenile delinquents in the cities of the country.” (p.312)

(Clearly, Frazier had discarded his pre-war radicalism and had now come out on the side of Order, notwithstanding comments to the contrary in academe. https://www.bu.edu/bridge/archive/2002/08-30/scholars.htm.)

Return to Rainwater and Yancey’s extensive commentary on the Moynihan Report. Throughout their analysis, they complain that Moynihan’s report should have been kept secret from the general public, which they imply was too unacquainted with the feedback loop between economic conditions and family structure.

Besides the obvious example of Frazier, such (white) Harvard sociologists as Talcott Parsons and Erik Erikson advised the novice Moynihan (Rainwater was also a Harvard sociologist, while Yancey taught at Vanderbilt U.). Moynihan’s report blamed slavery and urbanization for the lamentable state of poor black families, and his attack on matriarchy does not sit well with modern feminism, for Moynihan, like Frazier, insisted that a strong father was necessary for healthy families. But in 1966, Protestants and their Jewish allies were less fearful of attacking the tenets of Catholicism, for these authors tell us that Catholic family welfare ideology informed Moynihan’s support of family-focused Big Government solutions.

Some of the pushback came from black “militant” civil rights leaders who wanted to continue anti-discrimination and other existing new laws, and all around poverty solutions, including job training, public education, justice, and “decent housing” that would deliver equality of results/life chances, as opposed to “liberty” (with the latter considered to be a [capitalist?] ruse opposed to “equality”).

Some black “militants” considered the Moynihan Report to be insulting to black males, and objected to the focus on the family, seen as victim-blaming.  Rather than the emphasis on “the tangled pathology” in the black family, such organizations as CORE preferred to blame the sickness of America (i.e., white racism).

In any case, the Moynihan Report supported black power and preferential treatment, responding above all, to urban riots in the summer of 1964 but ostensibly to a startling rise in black unemployment and hence increasing welfare payments. (But liberal academics were still fretting over urban unrest in 1968, as I showed here: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.)

Preparations for a Johnson administration-instigated national conference to discuss The Moynihan Report’s “findings” would be diverted by the massive billions diverted to supporting the Vietnam War, with the outcome that civil rights black activists now challenged the war itself.

Conclusion: By (understandably) advocating preferential treatment instead of dealing with class  (not “caste”) disparities and lily-white New Deal unionism (the solutions advocated by such black radicals as Ralph Bunche, Sam Dorsey, and L. Abram Harris in the 1930s: https://clarespark.com/2013/09/02/labor-day-2013/), the administrative state, aided by social psychologists and “moderate” sociologists, increased divisions in the electorate and finally aroused even more antagonism to statist solutions to “the Negro problem.”

Why did they do this? As I have argued previously, the overwhelming imperative to apply band-aids to structural problems in order to prevent red revolution, or to stop more moderate solutions such as school choice, only ripped the “social fabric” that organic conservatives sponsor.

What about the Irish, Polish, and Italian urban ethnics of the working-class who have taken up police work to control urban crime? The measures taken by “moderate conservatives” (the progressives), can be seen as directly leading to the confrontations between white police and lumpen black mobs in such places as Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri.

Civil Rights activist John Lewis rose out of the movement to become a prominent Democrat, but the antagonisms his head wound embodied, disconcertingly remain.

John Lewis's fractured skull bandaged

John Lewis’s fractured skull bandaged

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3 Comments »

  1. […] I remember a seminar that UCLA historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg invited me to. Robert Brenner, a leading Leninist, started his remarks appalled by the focus on the family, as opposed to capitalist institutions, that he attributed to “psychohistorians” as they used to be called, usually derisively. Feminists, of course, find this neglect of family dynamics to be detrimental to the cause of female equality, and this blog will reflect the concern that I and other feminists feel where parenting is involved. We are particularly concerned about the idealization of the patriarchal family, a concern not shared by prominent male leftists or by those conservative reformers who seek to solve the deterioration of urban black life by recovering a golden age of Good Black Fathers (https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/) […]

    Pingback by Chris Harper-Mercer and the evasion of family dynamics | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 5, 2015 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  2. […] and illegitimacy in urban minority communities. (This issue is apparently too hot to handle, see https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/, one of my least read […]

    Pingback by Why is gay marriage a hot button issue for religious conservatives? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 12, 2015 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  3. […] And are not Catholics and evangelical Protestants, notwithstanding their doctrinal differences, on the same side in the culture wars, with both sides devoted to family life, and taking up arms against [jewified] modernity? Was not the chief item in the controversial Moynihan report on the alarming increase in black welfare assistance and illegitimacy, the reconstitution of the father-led nuclear family? (https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/). […]

    Pingback by Catholics, Marxists, and a sprinkling of neocons | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 2, 2015 @ 8:04 pm | Reply


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