United States and American History: Late 1968

About the history of the United States in 1968, Robert Kennedy shot, Vietnam continues and draft dodging grows, riots at the Democratic convention.


June 5 Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. Kennedy had just won the California primary making him the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. (See also: Assassinations, Chap.9.)

June 14 Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin of Yale, and 2 others were convicted for counseling and aiding draft evasion. The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan was convicted twice, April 16 with 3 others for pouring lamb's blood on draft files and October 16 with 8 others for burning draft files.

June 19 President Johnson signed a bill giving over $400 million in Federal aid to law enforcement and allowing police considerable freedom to wiretap and eavesdrop.

June 29 The U.S. death toll in Vietnam had already reached 9,557, more than in all of 1967.

July 23-24, A riot in Cleveland was sparked by a gun battle between police and a black nationalist group. Altogether, 11 people, including 3 police, died as a result of the shootout.

July 29 Pope Paul issued an encyclical reaffirming the Church's opposition to all forms of birth control except the rhythm system. A survey 2 months later showed about 1/2 of U.S. Catholic priests rejected the Pope's birth-control stand.

Aug. 25-29 The old line Democratic party leadership railroaded the presidential nomination of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey at the party convention in Chicago. Meanwhile, some 5,000 young people, ranging from supporters of peace candidate Senator McCarthy to "Yippies," were unable to get into the convention and engaged in street fighting with the police, who, in the words of even Vice-Presidential nominee Senator Muskie, "overreacted" in their clubbing of demonstrators and some TV reporters. The turmoil, seen by 50-80 million on the tube, probably cost Humphrey the election.

Sept. 8 Black Panther party leader Huey Newton was convicted of manslaughter for allegedly killing a policeman in a shoot-out, beginning a nationwide campaign to "Free Huey." The BPP, an armed revolutionary socialist organization founded October, 1966, was becoming a leading black political group with its 10-point program for self-determination in the ghettos and its tactics of following police to prevent police harassment and brutality toward blacks. By 1970 more than 25 Black Panthers had been killed, mostly by police and police agents.

Sept. 9 New York City teachers struck after 19 teachers who protested the new school policies of decentralization and community control were dismissed. The strike lasted until November 19 and kept over one million students out of school. In December, New York high school students "rampaged" several schools in protest to lengthened school days and canceled vacations imposed to make up for time lost.

Oct. 31 President Johnson announced a complete halt in U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and the expansion of the Paris peace talks to include the National Liberation Front and the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese Government. The South Vietnamese Government did not agree to negotiate, however, until November 26, and 4-way talks did not begin until 1969 because of disagreement over the shape of the conference table.

Nov. 6 Students at San Francisco State College began a student strike demanding a 3rd World Studies department and an open admissions policy. San Francisco State closed November 19 after daily confrontations between police and students, but was reopened December 2 by new college president Hayakawa. The level of violence cooled after Hayakawa ordered that the school close early for Christmas vacation, thus avoiding the spectacle of high school students joining the battles when their vacation began the next day. The strike lasted 5 months.

Nov. 14 "National Turn in Your Draft Card Day" featured draft card burning at many campuses and rallies in several cities.

Dec. 14 The U.S. Vietnam death toll passed 30,000. U.S. forces in Vietnam were about at their peak of 550,000 men.

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