Long remembered for its warning that the United States, divided by racism, was becoming “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal,” the report of the Kerner commission (National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) made a landmark contribution to public debate in 1968. The paperback edition quickly became a best seller that year, and even though it failed to influence Lyndon B. Johnson’s embattled presidency, it found a wide readership. This article examines the report in context, approaching it as an example of political narrative writing at a time when centrist, “establishment” liberals attempted to reconcile their rhetorical ideal of a democratic national purpose with the realities of racism. It considers how the report reframed the national story by positioning racial justice as the central test of democracy. And it assesses how far, in that light, it succeeded in renewing the idea of liberal national leadership.