Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Leap Into the Racially Charged 1960s

Historians in the News
tags: Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Scott Porch writes about American history, politics and culture. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Beast and Kirkus Reviews and has written for Politico Magazine, The Atlantic, Salon and Huffington Post.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a United States Senator from New York in the 1980s and ‘90s, is regarded as one of the more brilliant and colorful intellectuals to work on Capitol Hill during those years. He was a lifelong Democrat but tough to pigeonhole as either a conservative or liberal, and he had worked in both Johnson and Nixon administrations.

In 1965, he was a then-unknown official in the Labor Department with a professorial demeanor and a curiosity about the causes of African-American unemployment that he suspected went well beyond racism and education. He wrote a report called The Negro Family: The Case for National Action -- which came to be known as the Moynihan Report -- that suggested the family structure in the African-American community was partly to blame for income inequality.

Liberals argued that the report showed the need for jobs programs and welfare support, and conservatives argued that it proved how important marriage and two-parent households are to rise out of poverty. Some civil-rights leaders criticized Moynihan as blaming African-Americans for income inequality.

In Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy, historian Daniel Geary takes a fresh look at Moynihan and his role in the discussion of race in the 1960s. Biographile caught up with Geary earlier this week to talk about the book.

Biographile: What was Moynihan doing before 1965?

Daniel Geary: He was the Assistant Secretary of Labor and was a pretty unlikely figure to write a report on the nuclear family. He had a Ph.D. in political science and had a political career in New York and a scholarly career but didn’t have a background, really, in the issues he dealt with in the Moynihan Report. ...

Read entire article at Biographile

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