Historians look back on 1968 tumult and its lasting impact

Historians in the News

1968…the year all hell broke loose worldwide, or so it seemed then.

Students hit the streets from Tokyo to Cairo to Chicago. Opposition to the U.S. war in Indochina was the main theme, but there were secondary and local causes, too—from protesting a sick economy and a discredited president in Egypt to campaigning against an aloof ruler in France. Soviet tanks overthrew the reformist Czechoslovak Communist government of Alexander Dubcek’s “Prague Spring.”

The U.S. lurched between a detested president, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, riots in cities after King’s murder, the black power movement, and the “police riot”—as an impartial report put it—surrounding the late-summer Democratic National Convention in Chicago. That conclave itself was a maelstrom inside the International Amphitheater on the South Side.

And on top of that came the Kerner Commission report about the U.S. becoming two societies, one white, one black, separate and unequal, the Poor People’s Campaign King organized before his murder, the youth “counter-culture” of peace and love—and pot and speed—and the right-wing backlash against all of that which racist George Wallace rode to prominence and Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon exploited as the so-called “Southern Strategy to win the White House.

And that’s just for starters. ...

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