It is difficult to overstate the political impact of the urban unrest of the 1960s. The explosions in Newark and Detroit fifty years ago devastated those cities and sent shock waves across the country. The “long, hot summer” of 1967 also eroded popular faith in activist government and the Great Society, which never recovered from conservative claims that liberal programs had stimulated the civil disorders by encouraging the irresponsible and “rewarding the rioters.”

The first major rebellion or riot of the decade erupted in July 1964, two weeks after President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. On the same day that Arizona senator Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination for president and presented the incendiary issue of law and order to a national audience, a white off-duty police officer in New York shot and killed a black teenager...

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