The Riot Report (working title)

2024 | GBH’s American Experience

At 10:30pm on July 27th, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appeared before the nation in a televised address. For three consecutive summers, disturbances had engulfed Black urban communities across the country, and 1967 was on pace to be the most violent summer yet, with racial disorders already reported in seventy cities. Johnson appointed the eleven-member Kerner Commission to find out what happened, why it happened, and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. The commissioners would hold twenty days of closed-door hearings in Washington and tour twenty-three riot-torn cities. The resulting report, released seven months later, would offer what was arguably the 20th century’s most unvarnished assessment of American race relations: the fundamental cause of urban unrest, the commission had found, was white racism. The Riot Report will explore the evidence and experiences that led the Commission to its then-shocking conclusions. It is currently scheduled to air in 2024.


Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at the New Yorker and a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sidney Hillman Award for Opinion and Analysis writing and writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture. He is the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress, To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic and recently published The Essential Kerner Commission Report. His articles and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, The New Republic, Essence, Vibe, The Progressive, and Born and raised in Queens, New York, he is a graduate of Howard University and Rutgers University where he received his doctorate in American History.

Michelle Ferrari has been creating innovative, critically acclaimed documentary narratives for nearly two decades. Her work as a screenwriter and story editor has been seen on PBS, HBO, and at film festivals nationwide, and has garnered honors from the Writers Guild of America, the Western Writers Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The writer of numerous American Experience films, Ferrari is perhaps best known for the highly rated Seabiscuit, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. She wrote and directed Sandra Day O’Connor: The First, Edison, Rachel Carson, The Eugenics Crusade (2019 Writers Guild Award), and, most recently, the Peabody-nominated two-part series The Vote, among many other films. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and holds an M.A. in American History from Columbia University.

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