This timeline focuses on some major events of 1968. When necessary
or indicated, contextual background material, or certain subsequent
events will be referenced in the text. This brief document cannot
hope to touch on all or even most of the important happenings in what
was perhaps an uniquely "eventful" year, but focuses especially on
events referred to in the text of the interviews. A number of books
have been particularly helpful in preparing this timeline, including:
(1989) especially on events in Paris and Czechoslovakia; Kaiser
(1988) for material on the US counterculture; Trager
(1992) overall; and Witcover
(1997) on US politics. Please refer to the bibliography
for additional reference materials and memoirs by many of the important
participants in the events of the year.
- January 5
- Dr. Benjamin Spock; William Sloan Coffin the chaplain of Yale
University; novelist Mitchell Goodman; Michael Ferber, a graduate
student at Harvard; and Marcus Raskin a peace activist are indicted
on charges of conspiracy to encourage violations of the draft laws
by a grand jury in Boston. The charges are the result of actions
taken at a protest rally the previous October at the Lincoln Memorial.
The four will be convicted and Raskin acquitted on June 14th.
- January 10
- The 10,000 US airplane is lost over Vietnam.
- January 17
- President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) (an
LBJ Library photo by Kevin Smith taken this day) delivers the
the Union Address.
- January 23
- North Korean patrol boats capture the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence
gathering vessel and its 83 man crew on charges of violating the
communist country's twelve-mile territorial limit. This crisis would
dog the US foreign policy team for 11 months, with the crew of the
Pueblo finally gaining freedom on December 22.
- January 31
- At half-past midnight on Wednesday morning the North Vietnamese
launch the Tet offensive at Nha Trang. Nearly 70,000 North Vietnamese
troops will take part in this broad action, taking the battle from
the jungles to the cities. The offensive will carry on for weeks
and is seen as a major turning point for the American attitude toward
the war. At 2:45 that morning the US embassy in Saigon is invaded
and held until 9:15AM.
- February 1
- During police actions following the first day of the Tet offensive
Nguyen Ngoc Loan,
a south Vietnamese security official is captured on film executing
a Viet Cong prisoner by American photographer Eddie Adams. The Pulitzer
becomes yet another rallying point for anti-war protestors. Despite
later claims that the prisoner had been accused of murdering a Saigon
police officer and his family, the image seems to call into question
everything claimed and assumed about the Amrican allies, the South
- February 2
- Richard Nixon, a republican from California, enters the New Hampshire
primary and declares his presidential candidacy.
- February 4
Luther King Jr. delivers a sermon at his Ebenezer Baptist Church
in Atlanta which will come to be seen as prophetic. His speech contains
what amounts to his own eulogy. After his death, he says, "I'd like
somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to
give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that
day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody... that I
tried to love and serve humanity,. Yes, if you want to, say that
I was a drum major for peace... for righteousness."
- February 7
- International reporters arrive at the embattled city of Ben Tre
in South Vietnam. Peter Arnett, then of the Associated Press, writes
a dispatch quoting an unnamed US major as saying, "It became necessary
to destroy the town to save it." The quote runs nationwide the next
day in Arnett's report.
- February 18
- The US State Department announces the highest US casualty toll
of the Vietnam War. The previous week saw 543 Americans killed in
action, and 2547 wounded.
- February 27
- Walter Cronkite reports on his recent trip to Vietnam to view
the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in his television special Who,
What, When, Where, Why? The report is highly critical of US
officials and directly contradicts official statements on the progress
of the war. After listing Tet and several other current military
operations as "draw[s]" and chastising American leaders for their
optimism, Cronkite advises negotiation "...not as victors, but as
an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy,
and did the best they could."
- March 12
- The New Hampshire primary election brings shocking results. The
Eugene McCarthy campaign, benefitting from the work of 2,000 full-time
student volunteers and up to 5,000 on the weekends immediately preceding
the vote comes within 230 votes of defeating the sitting president
Lyndon Johnson. These students, participants in what McCarthy refers
to as his "children's crusade" have cut their hair, modified their
wardrobes, and become "clean for Gene" to contact the conservative
voters in the state.
- March 16
- Senator Robert Kennedy, former Attorney General and brother of
former president John F. Kennedy (1961-63) ends months of debate
that he will enter the 1968 Presidential race.
- March 16 (same day)
- Although it will not become public knowledge for more than a year,
US ground troops from Charlie Company rampage through the hamlet
of My Lai killing more than 500 Vietnamese civilians from infants
to the elderly. The massacre continues for three hours until three
American fliers intervene, positioning their helicopter between
the troops and the fleeing vietnamese and eventually carrying a
handful of wounded to safety. View the BBC
Special Report on the incident.
- March 22
- In Czechoslovakia Antonin Novotny resigns the Czech presidency
setting off alarm bells in Moscow. The next day leaders of five
Warsaw Pact countries meet in Dresden, East Germany to discuss the
- March 28
- Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march in Memphis which turns violent.
After King himself had been led from the scene one 16 year old black
boy is killed, 60 people are injured, and over 150 arrested.
- March 31
- President Lyndon Johnson delivers his Address
to the Nation Announcing Steps To Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting
His Decision Not To Seek Reelection. The speech announces
the first in a series of limitations on US bombing, promising to
halt these activities above the 20th parallel.
- April 4
Luther King Jr. spends the day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis
working and meeting with local leaders on plans for his Poor People's
March on Washington to take place late in the month. At 6pm, as
he greets the car and friends in the courtyard, King is shot with
one round from a 30.06 rifle. He will be declared dead just an hour
later at St. Joseph's hospital. After an international man-hunt
James Earl Ray will be arrested on June 27 in England, and convicted
of the murder. Ray died in prison in 1998.
Robert Kennedy, hearing of the murder just before he is to give
a speech in Indianapolis, IN, delivers a powerful extemporaneous
eulogy in which
he pleads with the audience "to tame the savageness of man and make
gentle the life of this world."
The King assassination sparks rioting in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago,
Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, Washington, D.C., and many others.
Across the country 46 deaths will be blamed on the riots.
- April 11
- United States Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford calls 24,500
military reserves to action for 2 year commitments, and announces
a new troop ceiling of 549,500 American soldiers in Vietnam. The
total number of Americans "in country" will peak at some 541,000
in August this year, and decline to 334,000 by 1970.
- April 23
- A rally and occupation of the Low administrative office building
at Columbia University, planned to protest the university's participation
in the Institute for Defense Analysis is scuttled by conservative
students and university security officers. The demonstrators march
to the site of a proposed new gymnasium at Morningside Heights to
stage a protest in support of neighbors who use the site for recreation.
The action eventually results in the occupation of five buildings
- Hamilton, Low, Fairweather and Mathematics halls, and the Architecture
building. It will culminate seven days later when police storm the
buildings and violently remove the students and their supporters
at the Columbia administration's request.
- May 3
- The US and North Vietnamese delegations agree to begin peace talks
in Paris later this month. The formal talks will begin on May 10.
- May 6
- In France, "Bloody Monday" marks one of the most violent days
of the Parisian student revolt. Five thousand students march through
the Latin Quarter with support from the student union and the instructors'
union. Reports of the ensuing riot conflict, either the police charge
unprevoked, or demonstrators harass them with thrown stones. The
fighting is intense with rioters setting up barricades and the police
attacking with gas grenades. Over-night the battle will subside,
but only after engaging the sympathies of large numbers of French
- May 11
- Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.'s designated successor,
and the Southern Christian Leadership Corps are granted a permit
for an encampment on the Mall in Washington, DC. Eventually, despite
nearly a solid month of rain, over 2,500 people will eventually
occupy Resurrection City. On June 24th the site is raided by police,
124 occupants arrested, and the encampment demolished.
- May 13
- The actions taken by the students and instructors at the Sorbonne
inspires sympathetic strikes throughout France. As many as nine
million workers are on strike by May 22. President de Gaulle takes
action to shore up governmental power, making strident radio addresses
and authorizing large movements of military troops within the country.
These shows of force eventually dissipate the French revolutionary
- June 3
- Andy Warhol is shot in his New York City loft by Valerie Solanis,
a struggling actress, and writer
- June 4/5
- On the night of the California Primary Robert Kennedy addresses
a large crowd of supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco.
He has won victories in California and South Dakota and is confident
that his campaign will go on to unite the many factions stressing
the country. As he leaves the stage, at 12:13AM on the morning of
the fifth Kennedy is shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24 year old Jordanian
living in Los Angeles. The motive for the shooting is apparently
anger at several pro-Isreali speeches Kennedy had made during the
campaign. The forty-two year old Kennedy dies in the early morning
of June sixth.
- June 8
- Robert Kennedy's funeral is held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in
New York. Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother of John and
Robert delivers the eulogy. After the service, the body and 700
guests depart on a special train for the burial at Arlington National
Cemetery in Virginia.
- June 27
- As the "Prague Spring"
continues in Czechoslovakia Ludvik Vaculik
releases his manifesto "Two Thousand Words". This essay, criticizing
Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and concluding with an overt threat
to "foreign forces" trying to control the government of the country
was seen as a direct challenge to the Soviet Administration who
extended ongoing military exercises in the country, and began planning
for their invasion later in the summer.
- June 28
- A bill adding a 10 percent surcharge to income taxes and reducing
government spending is signed by President Johnson. The president
effectively admits it has been impossible to provide both "guns
- July 7
- Abbie Hoffman's "The Yippies are Going to Chicago" is published
in The Realist. The yippie movement, formed by Hoffman, Jerry
Rubin and Paul Krassner, all committed activists and demonstrators,
is characterized by public displays of disorder ranging from disrupting
the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the destruction
of the Clocks at Grand Central Terminal, the main commuter station
for workers in New York City. The Yippie's will be in the center
of action six weeks later at the Chicago Democratic National Convention,
hosting a "Festival of Life" in contrast to what they term the convention's
"Festival of Death."
- July 24
- At the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival singer Arlo Guthrie
performs his 20 minute ballad "Alice's Restaurant"
to rave reviews.i
- August 8
- At their Party convention in Miami Beach the Republicans nominate
Milhouse Nixon to be their presidential candidate. The next
day Nixon will appoint Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate.
Nixon has been challenged in his campaign by Nelson Rockefeller
of New York, and Ronald Reagan of California.
- August 20
- The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia with over 200,000 warsaw
pact troops, putting an end to the "Prague Spring," and beginning
a period of enforced and oppressive "normalization."
- August 26
- Mayor Richard Daley opens the Democratic National Convention in
Chicago. While the convention moves haltingly toward nominating
Hubert Humphrey for president, the city's police attempt to enforce
an 11 o'clock curfew. On that Monday night demonstrations are widespread,
but generally peaceful. The next two days, however, bring increasing
tension and violence to the situation.
- August 28
- By most accounts, on Wednesday evening Chicago police take action
against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police
beat some marchers unconscious and send at least 100 to emergency
rooms while arresting 175.
Mayor Daley tried the next day to explain the police action at a
press conference. He famously explained: "The policeman isn't there
to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder."
Twenty-eight years later, when the Democrats next held a convention
in Chicago, some police officers still on the force wore t-shirts
proclaiming, "We kicked their father's butt in '68 and now it's
- September 1
- Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey kicks off his presidential
campaign at New York City's Labor Day parade.
- September 7
- Women's Liberation groups, joined by members of New York NOW,
the Miss America Beauty Contest in Atlantic City. The protest
includes theatrical demonstrations including ritual disposal of
traditional female roles into the "freedom ashcan." While nothing
is actually set on fire, one organizer's comment - quoted in the
New York Times the next day - that the protesters "wouldn't
do anything dangerous, just a symbolic bra-burning," lives on in
the derogatory term "bra-burning feminist."
- September 29
- This date marks the thirtieth anniversary of Neville Chamberlain's
Munich agreement ceding Czechoslovakia's Sudatenland to Hitler.
This action widely seen as a major contributing factor to the devastation
of World War II. The domino theory which underlay so much of American
action in Vietnam can be seen as a direct response to the failure
of international response to the German dictator.
- October 2
- Police and military troops in Mexico City react violently to a
student - led protest in Tlatelolco Square. Hundreds of the demonstrators
are killed or injured.
- October 3
- George Wallace, who has been running an independent campaign for
the presidency which has met significant support in the South and
the Midwest, names retired Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay
to be his running mate. At the press conference, the general is
asked about his position on the use of nuclear weapons, and responds:
"I think most military men think it's just another weapon in the
arsenal... I think there are many times when it would be most efficient
to use nuclear weapons. ... I don't believe the world would end
if we exploded a nuclear weapon."
- October 11
7 is launched from Florida for an eleven day journey which will
orbit the Earth 163 times.
- October 12
- The Summer Olympic Games open in Mexico City. The games have been
boycotted by 32 African nations in protest of South Africa's participation.
On the 18th Tommie Smith and John Carlos, US athletes and medalists
in the 200-meter dash will further disrupt the games by performing
the black power salute during the "Star-Spangled Banner" at thier
- October 20
- Jacqueline Kennedy is married to Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping
magnate on the private island of Skorpios.
- October 31
- President Johnson announces a total halt to US bombing in North
- November 5
- Election Day. The results of the popular vote are 31,770,000 for
Nixon, 43.4 percent of the total; 31,270,000 or 42.7 percent for
Humphrey; 9,906,000 or 13.5 percent for wallace; and 0.4 percent
for other candidates.
- November 14
- National Turn in Your Draft Card Day is observed with rallies
and protests on college campuses throughout the country.
- November 26
- After stalling for months, the South Vietnamese government agrees
to join in the Paris peace talks.
- December 11
- The unemployment rate, at 3.3 percent, is the lowest it has been
in fifteen years.
- December 12
- Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, Rory, their eleventh child
- December 21
- The launch of Apollo
8 begins the first US mission to orbit the Moon.