Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America's Struggle over Black Family Life--from LBJ to Obama

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Overview


On June 4, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson delivered what he and many others considered the greatest civil rights speech of his career. Proudly, Johnson hailed the new freedoms granted to African Americans due to the newly passed Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, but noted that “freedom is not enough.” The next stage of the movement would be to secure racial equality “as a fact and a result.”

The speech was drafted by an assistant secretary of labor by the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had just a few months earlier drafted a scorching report on the deterioration of the urban black family in America. When that report was leaked to the press a month after Johnson’s speech, it created a whirlwind of controversy from which Johnson’s civil rights initiatives would never recover. But Moynihan’s arguments proved startlingly prescient, and established the terms of a debate about welfare policy that have endured for forty-five years.

The history of one of the great missed opportunities in American history, Freedom Is Not Enough will be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand our nation’s ongoing failure to address the tragedy of the black underclass.

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Editorial Reviews

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)
From the Publisher

William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University
Freedom is Not Enough is a well written, insightful, and carefully documented social history of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan infamous report on black family life. Careful readers will appreciate James Patterson’s excellent and balanced discussion of the events surrounding this controversial report. Indeed, although other studies have focused on the Moynihan Report, none matches Patterson's creative synthesis and analysis of the complex racial, political, social, and cultural issues that influenced both the writing of the report and the public's reaction to it. Patterson's illuminating book is a must-read.”

John Dittmer, Professor Emeritus of History at Depauw University, and author of the Bancroft Prize winning Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
"Elegantly written, even-handed, and timely, Freedom is Not Enough is a tour de force. After exploring the controversy that has followed the Moynihan report down through the decades, Patterson concludes that Moynihan deserves far better than he has gotten. Not convinced? Then by all means read this book!"

E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics and Souled Out
“The debate unleashed by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan over the fate of the African-American family was one of the most difficult, important and misunderstood moments in our recent history. We should all be grateful that one of our greatest and most fluent historians has turned his shrewd attention to the episode. Freedom is Not Enough explains what the controversy was really about, unearths new evidence, and makes clear that this is a debate -- as President Obama has insisted -- still vital in our time. All who are committed to social justice and equality will profit from James Patterson’s riveting account.”

Nathan Glazer, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Harvard University
"James Patterson has written a full and absorbing history of the controversy that erupted over the Negro family and its connection to black poverty, in the wake of Daniel P. Moynihan's report of 1965. The issue was buried for decades, but inevitably re-emerged, shaped welfare reform in the 1990's, and is with us still 45 years after Moynihan's report."

Kirkus Reviews
“An astute, timely study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s important 1965 jeremiad…an excellent revisiting of a prescient report.”

Library Journal
“Patterson presents a history of this controversial, now vindicated, report, which for decades informed and roiled the debate over black poverty in the nation's cities.”

Wall Street Journal
“A concise and judicious account of Mr. Moynihan’s political career, the report her made famous and the policy debates that the report inspired…Freedom Is Not Enough is written in an engaging style that makes these debates come alive again and that reminds us of their continuing importance.”

Booklist
“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.”

National Review
“This is a humble history, written without exaggeration or irony, and largely without bias. Below its modest exterior, however, lies a doleful cautionary tale about the vanity of politics and the limits of government, a tale that comes at a particularly apt political moment.”
 

WashingtonPost
“[A] fine-grained study… Patterson’s key contribution is to show how the controversy that Moynihan triggered continued to warp public discussion of the concerns he raised long after the report itself had been filed away.”
 

Journal of American History “Patterson offers a compact, well-researched, reliable, lively, and, above all, balanced account of a major social and political issue. Extremely well suited to teaching, this book, like his others, will be of value to both undergraduate and graduate students.”

Library Journal
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a young assistant secretary of labor, drafted an internal report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, or the Moynihan Report, as it became known, which greatly impressed President Johnson for its bold call for action to end urban poverty. Patterson (Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore) presents a history of this controversial, now vindicated, report, which for decades informed and roiled the debate over black poverty in the nation's cities. Politicians, academics, and activists took quotes out of context to accuse Moynihan of blaming the victims for their circumstances. Actually, Moynihan claimed that black poverty was rooted in lack of employment opportunities and centuries of white oppression, which led to female-dominated single-parent families. In recent years, prominent African American leaders, including President Obama, credit Moynihan for his appraisal of urban decay. VERDICT This is the story of the Moynihan Report and not Moynihan himself. For an excellent biography, see Godfrey Hodgson's The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan—A Biography. This book, with its many descriptions of statistics about urban families and poverty, will appeal mostly to scholars and policymakers.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Kevin Boyle
The story of the Moynihan Report's demise has been told a number of times before. Patterson's key contribution is to show how the controversy that Moynihan triggered continued to warp public discussion of the concerns he raised long after the report itself had been filed away.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
An astute, timely study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's important 1965 jeremiad. Written when Moynihan was serving as assistant secretary of labor in Lyndon Johnson's administration, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action decried the ills that beset black urban America, including the legacy of slavery, discrimination, cycle of poverty, unemployment, out-of-wedlock children and absent fathers. At the time, Johnson was riding high on his Great Society agenda, touting the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and galvanizing the country in the War on Poverty. Although Johnson incorporated many of Moynihan's ideas into an important speech at Howard University's commencement on June 4, the eruption of violence in the Watts ghetto and widespread criticism of Moynihan's outspoken report soon eclipsed its prophetic message that a "unity of purpose" in federal programs was needed to arrest the crumbling structure of the black family, which would only "feed on itself" in the future. The report aroused the ire of critics and militant civil-rights leaders, who accused Moynihan of victimizing blacks and advocating preferential treatment-a "conversational Gulag." As a result, for years he was relegated to the status of neo-conservative. Bancroft Prize-winning historian Patterson (Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush vs. Gore, 2005, etc.) traces Moynihan's career through successive administrations, from Nixon to Clinton, and his tireless work for welfare reform. "The moment lost" to address the dysfunctional black family was only regained with the publication of William Julius Wilson's The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) and other books. The final chapter, "From Cosby to Obama,"addresses current troubling trends and public-policy strategies that work. An excellent revisiting of a prescient report. Agent: John Wright/John Wright Literary Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013579
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


James T. Patterson is Ford Foundation Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University and the author of Restless Giant, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Bancroft Prize-winning Grand Expectations. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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