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.
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.