From Publishers Weekly
Despite the author's caveat, this is not a biography, it is the life story (and afterlife story) of a document commonly named The Moynihan Report—its conception as a memo, its delivery in 1965 as a report entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action by Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Moynihan, and its independent, later development. Bancroft Prize-winning historian Patterson (Grand Expectations
) reviews the report's perspectives on the woes of lower-class, inner-city black families—at the center of which are nonmarital births—rooted variously in the historic past (slavery, migration to urban centers), contemporaneous economic forces (joblessness), or black culture. Patterson's wide scouring through the scholarly literature and the popular media, from the mid-1960s to the Obama era, results in a generous survey of the sociological and historical treatment of lower-class black family life and a reappraisal of whether the report scuttled LBJ's civil rights agenda. Alas, Patterson's thorough account is dulled by a plethora of repetitive statistics concerning out-of-wedlock births and a surfeit of reports concerning media handling; while it remains useful documentation, it is a tiresome read. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1965, having just passed major civil-rights laws, President Johnson spoke at Howard University asserting that those laws were not enough to guarantee equality. Johnson's war on poverty lost out to the real war in Vietnam even as domestic unrest grew into riots and white conservatives resisted any efforts to further address issues of racial inequality. Against that backdrop Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, issued a report that would famously come to bear his name and would be vilified for its suggestion that the government adopt a policy of “benign neglect” toward the problems of black families. Moynihan feared that the rise of out-of-wedlock births among black Americans was an indicator of the deterioration of urban black family life. Black-power advocates attacked Moynihan and his report for its perceived focus on black pathologies. But historian Patterson offers a careful analysis of the report, highlighting Moynihan's emphasis on the need for economic development in black communities with particular focus on black men and arguing for welfare assistance that did not disrupt family structures. --Vernon Ford