1968: One Hell of a Year

By Max Elbaum Jun 10, 1998

January 15: The first specifically women’s action against the Vietnam War, organized by the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, mobilizes 5,000 in Washington, D.C.

January 30-February: The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a nationwide uprising by the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. They attack 120 cities and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Tet exposes the weakness of the South Vietnamese regime and the failure of U.S. war policy.

March 3: Over 1,000 Mexican American students walk out of Lincoln High School in L.A. and later in the day some 9,000 more students join the strike at five other high schools. “The first major mass protest explicity against racism ever undertaken by Mexican Americans,” according to Carlos Muñoz, Jr.

March: The period after the strike is the formative period of the Brown Berets, the largest non-student radical youth organization in the Mexican American community, initiated by David Sanchez.

March 19: A sit-in at Howard University becomes the first building takeover on a college campus. By 1969 the black student revolt calling for Black Studies Departments and other demands had hit at least 50 colleges.

March 31: Facing defeat by anti-War Democrat Eugene McCarthy in the Wisconsin primary, incumbent President Lyndon Johnson shockingly withdraws from the presidential race. He also announces a “partial” bombing halt and invites the North Vietnamese to negotiations. The war rages on until 1975.

April 4: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, where he had returned to support the striking sanitation workers. Uprisings follow in over 100 cities; 46 people are killed, 2,500 injured. 70,000 troops are called out across the country to restore order.

April 11: Formation of the first ever “Asian American” organization — the Asian American Political Alliance at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Yuji Ichioka.

April 23: Columbia University building takeovers. “Columbia” becomes a reference point for the increasing militancy of the black, student and anti-war movements.

April 26: Up to one million college and high school students boycott classes in a nationwide student strike against the war.

May 2: The newly formed Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) leads the first wildcat strike at Dodge Main in Detroit in 14 years and shuts the plant. DRUM became a key building block of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which gains prominence and radical black workers caucuses spring up around the country.

May: Following the lead of French students, nine million French workers stage a general strike against the Gaullist regime. On May 30, President De Gaulle dissolves parliament, calls for new elections, and mobilizes armed forces to recapture power.

May 13: Marchers arrive in D.C. to set up Resurrection City as the culmination of the Poor Peoples Campaign. Jesse Jackson serves as unofficial mayor.

June 5: Robert Kennedy is assassinated on the night he wins the California Democratic presidential primary; dies June 6.

June 21-23: Black Political Convention in Newark builds local Black United Front to vie for local power, with Amiri Baraka prominent in the effort. Similar attempts to build local united fronts take place around the country.

July-September: Murder trial of Black Panther Chairman Huey Newton opens July 15, 1968 with 3,000 protesters marching to Alameda County Courthouse; Newton convicted of voluntary manslaughter on September 8; Appeals Court reverses conviction in 1970.

Early August: The first national conference of the women’s movement takes place in Sandy Springs Maryland.

August 20-21: Soviets invade Czechoslovakia ending the Czech Party’s Dubcek-led experiment with “socialism with a human face.”

August 25-30: Democratic National Convention in Chicago: “The Whole World Is Watching” — literally — as police riot and batter demonstrators, reporters and McCarthy delegates day after day.

September 23: Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans march into the mountains of Puerto Rico to celebrate the 100th anniversary of El Grito de Lares, the 1868 uprising that first proclaimed the independent republic of Puerto Rico.

September 28: J. Edgar Hoover publicly proclaims the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” FBI then accelerates already-existing COINTELPRO programs targeting the Panthers and others.

October 2: The Mexican government, faced with a rising student protest movement and the upcoming Olympic Games, orders its troops to fire upon and massacre hundreds of students at Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City.

October 18: Tommie Smith and John Carlos give Black Power salute while receiving their Olympic medals, fruit of the “Olympic Project for Human Rights” launched in November 1967 by Harry Edwards.

November 5: Republican Richard Nixon narrowly defeats Democrat Hubert Humphrey for President; white supremacist George Wallace gets 9,906,000 popular votes.

November 6: Beginning of the first-ever Third World Strike at San Francisco State College. Led by the Third World Liberation Front, the Strike lasted four-and-a-half months and gave rise to the first-ever Ethnic Studies program.

December: Black Women’s Liberation Committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is established. It soon becomes the independent Black Women’s Alliance and in 1970 expands to include Puerto Rican and other Third World women and becomes the Third World Women’s Alliance.

December: Akwesasne Notes is launched by the Mohawk Nation to report on Indian struggles in upstate New York and Canada; by the mid-1970s it is a newspaper with a circulation of 75,000.

Founding of C.A.S.A. — Hermandad General de Trabajadores: Center for Autonomous Social Action — General Brotherhood of Workers, in response to attacks on Mexicans and Mexican-Americans by the INS.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) is founded as a “Red Power” self-defense organization in Minneapolis by urban-experienced Indian youth.

Richard Hatcher becomes the first black mayor of a major northern city winning election in Gary Indiana.

Max Elbaum is the former editor of CrossRoads magazine.