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Mayor Louie Welch on Kerner Commission (1968)

KPRC-TV

Sound | 1968

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  •  Houston Mayor Louie Welch gives examples of civil rights accomplishments 
  •  “Racism is less a factor among whites today than it was even ten years ago, or even last year.” 
 
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In this news segment for Houston’s KPRC-TV, Mayor Louie Welch reflects on recent progress in the struggle for African-American civil rights. The press conference, conducted on March 4, was no doubt in response to recommendations by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. On July 28, 1867, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed an 11-member commission to investigate the causes of race riots and suggest solutions for the future. The commission—commonly known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner—released its final report on February 29, 1968. The document identified white racism as a main cause of surging racial violence. To prevent further riots and polarization, the commission advocated for expanded aid to African-American communities, such as housing programs to combat de facto residential segregation. Racial tensions remained high in Houston following the violent confrontation between police and Texas Southern University students in May 1967, prompting some Houstonians to worry about the possibility of a “hot summer,” a common descriptor for race riots.
Politician Louie Welch was born in Lockney, Texas on December 9, 1918. He received a degree in history from Abilene Christian College, now Abilene Christian University.
 
Welch began his political career in 1950, serving four terms on the Houston City Council. He unsuccessfully sought the Houston mayoral office three times before being elected to the position in 1963. Houston grew immensely during Welch’s five terms as mayor, from the population topping one million people to the opening of the Astrodome in 1965 and the Houston Intercontinental Airport in 1969. 
 
His tenure, however, was not without its controversy. A 1967 conflict between police and Texas Southern University students created a rift between the local administration and many of Houston’s African Americans. Welch’s reputation also came under fire during his last term over his relationship with well-known crime leaders, leading to suspicions about how his second mayoral bid was financed. 
 
In 1985, Welch ran for mayor again, campaigning in opposition to the extension of job protection rights to members of the LGBTQ community employed by the city government. He lost to incumbent Kathy Whitmore. 
 
Welch died from lung cancer on January 27, 2008 in his Harris County residence. He was 89.