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Black Families, Black Men
March 15, 2006
by Carey Roberts

Sounding like a born-again social conservative, president Lyndon B. Johnson stepped to the podium and made this stirring pronouncement: "When the family collapses, it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale, the community itself is crippled."

And with his usual modesty, LBJ later hailed that 1965 Howard University commencement address as his "greatest civil rights speech."

A few months later the Moynihan Report came out. Despite its commonsense focus on strengthening the Black family, civil rights leaders raised a stink that Mr. Moynihan was trying to "blame the victim." Floyd McKissick, director of the Congress of Racial Equality, insisted, "It's the damn system that needs changing."

So the architects of the Great Society not only set out to ignore the formative role of the Black family — they plotted to make things worse.

They instituted programs with men-stay-away names like "Women, Infants, and Children." They enacted Medicaid in 1965 that imposed eligibility tests slighting non-custodial parents (read "fathers").

Then the social do-gooders delivered the knock-out blow: the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. AFDC had its infamous "man-out-of-the-house" rule that withheld benefits if the primary breadwinner (again, read "father") resided in the house.

Sociologist Andrew Billingsley has traced the historical lifeline of the Black family. In 1890 the number of intact Black families with fathers and mothers at home was 80%. Over the next seven decades through 1960, that figure held remarkably constant.

But once the Great Society programs were put in place, the African-American family went into a tailspin.

When the number-crunchers tallied up the results from the 1970 decennial census, they couldn't believe their eyes — the number of intact Black families had fallen to 64%.

For the next 20 years two-parent families continued their free-fall, reaching a rock-bottom 38% in 1990. And most of the remaining intact families were concentrated in the Black middle class. In the inner city, the traditional Black family had essentially ceased to exist.

So forced to compete with a government welfare program, poor Black men had suddenly found themselves persona non grata in their own homes. Like an unwelcome houseguest, Uncle Sam had moved in, unpacked his bags, and made himself a surrogate husband.

What two World Wars and the Great Depression were unable to do, the Great Society accomplished in only 25 years.

With the Black family now in shambles, no amount of federal money could fix the problem. In 1965, 21% of all American children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. Thirty years and billions of welfare dollars later, the number of American children living in poverty was — 21%.

Of course the Leftists refuse to admit the obvious failures of the Great Society. And is their habit, they tell the exact opposite of the truth.

Robert Hill of the Urban League once spun this whopper: "Research studies have revealed that many one-parent families are more intact or cohesive than many two-parent families." Excuse me Mr. Hill, when millions of poor teenage girls are having out-of-wedlock births, how does that fit into your concept of "intact" and "cohesive"?

Likewise, feminist scholars celebrated the ascendancy of the female-headed household. Believing the nuclear family is the bastion of male privilege, feminist Toni Morrison lionized the "strong black woman" who was "superior in terms of [her] ability to function healthily in the world."

But there's a deeper reason for the Leftist cover-up.

Karl Marx argued that economic realities determine social conditions. According to that formulation, if you pump money into a community, social indicators will automatically improve. But the Great Society proved the opposite — squander money on programs that weaken social structures, and life becomes unbearably squalid.

Viewing the plight of the once-proud Black family, Kay Hymowitz recently mused in the City Journal, "The literature was so evasive, so implausible, so far removed from what was really unfolding in the ghetto, that if you didn't know better, you might conclude that people actually wanted to keep the black family separate and unequal."

When I reflect on the vestiges of the American Black family, the disenfranchisement of its men, and the despair of its children, I admit to feeling an abiding sense of betrayal — actually outrage is a better word.

They promised us the Great Society.

Carey Roberts probes and lampoons political correctness. His work has been published frequently in the Washington Times, Townhall.com, LewRockwell.com, ifeminists.net, Intellectual Conservative, and elsewhere. He is a staff reporter for the New Media Alliance.

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