Shock Year: 1968
Two political issues that recurred during Robert Kennedy's life — the fight against Communism, and the struggle for racial equality — exploded in 1968.
A growing number of Americans despaired over their nation's military involvement in Vietnam, fueling a youth counterculture. "Hippies" grew their hair long, protested the war and the pro-war "Establishment," and "turned on" with psychedelic drugs. Student uprisings in foreign places, including Prague, Paris, and Mexico City, erupted during a Cold War standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
At home, despite the civil rights movement's successes, Americans remained divided over race relations. Protesters turned to radical language and methods. Two assassinations added turmoil and uncertainty to a year full of shocks.
Examine some of the events of 1968 below.
January 1, Mumps Vaccine
The Food and Drug Administration approves a vaccine against mumps for human use. By 1987, reported cases will decrease by more than 98 percent.
January 6, Heart Transplant
Dr. Norman Shumway performs the first successful human heart transplant in the United States at Stanford University.
January 14, Super Bowl II
The Green Bay Packers win the National Football League's second annual Super Bowl, defeating the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
January 16, Yippies Founded
Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and other activists establish the Youth International Party -- known as the "Yippies." Counter-culture themes and imagery invade popular culture and advertising.
January 17, State of the Union
President Lyndon Johnson addresses the nation, boasting that in Vietnam "the enemy has been defeated in battle after battle," and that "our patience and our perseverance will match our power."
U.S. Ship Captured
A North Korean patrol boat captures the U.S.S. Pueblo, an American intelligence-gathering vessel. Its 83-man crew is accused of violating a twelve-mile territorial limit. President Johnson uses the crisis to justify calling up 14,000 military reserves. It will take most of the year to negotiate the crew's release.
January 30, RFK Critiques LBJ
Senator Robert Kennedy tells reporters he is not planning on challenging President Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he criticizes Johnson's Vietnam policy, and his indifference to the plight of urban blacks. When asked why, he says, "It's a political decision. There are more white people than black people."
January 31, Tet Offensive
Shortly after midnight, North Vietnamese soldiers begin the Tet Offensive. The assault involves nearly 70,000 North Vietnamese troops and lasts for weeks. Americans watch on television as the North Vietnamese wage war up and down the country, even taking the U.S. Embassy in Saigon for a few hours.
February 1, Execution Photo
American photographer Eddie Adams takes a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of South Vietnamese policeman Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner. The image's brutality shocks viewers and reinforces doubts about America's South Vietnamese allies, further galvanizing the anti-war movement.
February 2, Candidate Nixon
California Republican Richard Nixon announces that he will run for president.
February 6, Winter Olympics
The 10th Winter Olympic Games — the first to be broadcast live and in color — open in Grenoble, France. East and West German athletes participate on separate teams, and the International Olympic Committee enacts mandatory drug and gender verification testing of all athletes.
(A Look magazine article quotes Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Eugene McCarthy on the much-discussed prospect of Robert Kennedy entering the race. McCarthy says Kennedy "will have a fight on his hands to see who has the most strength. I will not step aside voluntarily."
February 7, Illegal Drug Use
President Lyndon Johnson establishes the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to stop the spread of illegal drug use. More Americans have begun "tripping" on L.S.D. — lysergic acid diethylamide, a hallucination-inducing drug first synthesized in the 1930s.
February 10, U.S. Gold Medal
Nineteen-year-old Peggy Fleming wins America's sole gold medal at the Grenoble Winter Olympics, in women's figure skating.
February 24, Pulsars Found
Astrophysicists Jocelyn Bell and Anthony Hewish discover pulsating stars, or "pulsars," at a British observatory, making waves in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology.
February 27,Cronkite Questions War
In a special report following a trip to Vietnam, well-respected mainstream journalist Walter Cronkite questions Washington's optimism in the wake of the Tet Offensive. Cronkite asks whether the war is winnable and advocates a negotiated withdrawal, "not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."
February 28, Request for Troops
General William Westmoreland asks President Johnson to send an additional 206,000 soldiers to Vietnam. Johnson delays and eventually denies the request, but allows the number of soldiers to increase gradually.
March 2, RFK Explores Run
Robert Kennedy and his advisors meet at Hickory Hill to discuss his entry into the presidential race. Kennedy's reasons for considering the move include his unhappiness over President Johnson's handling of Vietnam, and the White House's near-silence about a Kerner Commission report on the corrosive effects of racism in America.
March 9, The Beatles at the Grammys
Winners at the 10th Grammy Awards include The 5th Dimension's "Up, Up and Away" (Record of the Year) and Bobbie Gentry (Best New Artist). The Beatles take home four awards for their album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
March 10, Farm Workers Protest
Robert Kennedy flies to Delano, California, to help labor organizer Cesar Chavez end a 25-day fast to protest violence against striking migrant farm workers.
March 12, NH Primary
Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy comes within a few hundred votes of beating President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire's Democratic primary. McCarthy's surprisingly strong showing is powered by an anti-war message and a "children's crusade" by several thousand student volunteers who cut their hair and become "clean for Gene" to attract more conservative voters.
March 16, RFK Announces
Senator Robert Kennedy ends months of speculation by announcing his candidacy for president. Anticipating accusations of selfishness and opportunism, he opens by saying, "I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies."
My Lai Massacre
Though it will not become publicly known for more than a year, U.S. soldiers massacre more than 500 Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai.
March 18, Reactions to RFK
Although newspaper editorials question Kennedy's motives for entering the presidential race, voters show frenzied support at the candidate's first campaign stops. After he speaks at Kansas State University, journalist Jack Newfield writes, "The fieldhouse sounded as though it was inside Niagara Falls. It was like a soundtrack gone haywire."
March 22, Thaw in Communist Bloc
In Czechoslovakia, a movement for liberal reform of the centrally-planned economy gains supporters, following years of recession and a weak government response. President Antonin Novotny resigns amid charges of corruption, and the liberalizing "Prague Spring" begins. The events put Moscow on alert and prompt a meeting of Warsaw Pact countries in East Germany to discuss the crisis.
March 31, LBJ Withdraws
President Johnson delivers a national television address to explain a de-escalation of the U.S. bombing campaign in Vietnam. He includes a shocking announcement: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president."
April 3, Draft Protests
Protesters in Boston, New York and Toronto stage rallies in support of resisting the military draft.
April 4, King Assassinated
Civil rights leader Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had been planning an upcoming Poor People's March on Washington. An international manhunt for the murderer results in the capture and conviction of James Earl Ray.
Response to King's Death
Americans are stunned to hear of the assassination of Dr. King, an advocate of non-violence and, to many, a beloved leader. The news will spark riots in more than 100 cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. In Indianapolis, candidate Robert Kennedy delivers a moving, unscripted eulogy to a predominantly black crowd. "It is not the end of violence," he predicts. "But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together... Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people." President Johnson will declare April 7 a day of national mourning.
April 5, James Brown Performs
African American musical superstar James Brown is scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden, but the city is in turmoil following Martin Luther King's assassination. City officials fear the concert will encourage angry masses of people to gather and riot, so they devise a plan with public television station WGBH to televise the concert, and encourage people to stay home and watch. Brown performs as planned, and downtown riots are averted.
April 10, Academy Awards
The 40th Academy Awards are held, after being postponed from April 4th due to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Separate color and black and white categories of Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design merge for the first time in 28 years. "In The Heat of the Night," starring Sidney Poitier as a black Philiadelphia detective investigating a Southern white man's murder, wins Best Picture for 1967.
April 11, Soldiers Called Up
Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford calls up 24,500 military reservists to action for two-year commitments. The number of American soldiers in Vietnam is inching toward an August peak of 541,000.
Threat to RFK
In Lansing, Michigan, a false alarm over a man with a gun forces Robert Kennedy's car into an underground parking garage. As usual, Kennedy is furious at the disruption. "I'm not afraid of anybody," he says. "If things happen, they're going to happen."
Civil Rights Act
President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, an extension of the historic 1964 legislation protecting voting rights and equal opportunity. The new law prohibits racial discrimination in real estate transactions.
April 17, Honolulu Meeting
In Honolulu, Hawaii, President Lyndon Johnson pledges to South Korea's president, Chung Hee Park, that the U.S. will provide protection for non-Communist Asia.
April 18, Muhammad Ali Interview
A year after being arrested and stripped of his title for resisting the draft, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali speaks with sports reporter Bud Collins about his decision and life outside of the boxing ring.
April 23, Anti-War Protests
Student anti-war activists take over five buildings at Columbia University. The standoff attracts international attention and ends seven days later with the protesters' violent removal by police. Disruptions will continue at the graduation ceremonies.
April 29, Hair Debuts
Hair, a rock-musical about the hippie lifestyle, opens at Broadway's Biltmore Theater. Although the cast's nudity sparks controversy, the play will enjoy a New York run of nearly 1,750 performances.
May 2, NBA Champions
The Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, 4 games to 2, in the 22nd National Basketball Association championship.
Chinese Journalists Invited
The United States Information Agency invites Chinese journalists to cover the 1968 presidential elections.
May 3, Peace Talks Planned
American and North Vietnamese negotiators agree to begin peace talks in Paris within the month.
May 6, Paris Protests
Student protests in France climax on "Bloody Monday" when police clash with several thousand demonstrators in Paris' Latin Quarter. The students capture the support of French unionists, millions of whom will join in sympathetic strikes in the coming weeks. French president Charles de Gaulle asserts control, making strident radio addresses and mobilizing troops to prevent disorder.
May 7, Indiana Primary
Robert Kennedy wins an important primary test in Indiana, with 42 percent of the vote. He also wins in the District of Columbia.
May 8, Perfect Game Pitched
Jim (Catfish) Hunter of the Oakland Athletics pitches a perfect game -- a matchup in which no batters make it to first base -- against the Minnesota Twins. The A's win, 4-0. The game is one of only ten perfect games recorded in the history of the National Baseball League.
White author William Styron receives the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Confessions of Nat Turner, a book based on the true story of an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia. Some black intellectuals, including Cornell historian John Henrik Clarke, publish a critical response to the book.
May 11, Stanley Cup
The Montreal Canadiens sweep the St. Louis Blues in 4 games to win the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup.
May 14, Nebraska Primary
Robert Kennedy wins the Nebraska primary with 51.5 percent of the vote. As a warning shot to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who still has not entered the race, Kennedy declares that by winning more than 80 percent combined, he and McCarthy have repudiated the Johnson-Humphrey Vietnam policy.
May 21, Nuclear Sub Missing
An American nuclear-powered sub, the U.S.S. Scorpion, with 99 men aboard, is reported missing. It will later be found, with a damaged hull, at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, near the Azores. The cause of the damage will never be determined conclusively.
May 28, Oregon Primary
Eugene McCarthy wins the popular vote in the Oregon primary, demonstrating his viability and raising the stakes of his upcoming showdown with Robert Kennedy in California. The Oregon primary is the first time a Kennedy has ever lost an election.
June 3, Warhol Shot
In New York City, artist Andy Warhol is shot and wounded by Valerie Solanis, a struggling actress and writer.
June 4, California Primary
Robert Kennedy wins the South Dakota primary, as well as a narrow but crucial victory in California.
RFK's Last Speech
Around midnight, he addresses supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, confidently promising to heal the many divisions within the country on his way to the nomination.
June 5, RFK Shot
Leaving the stage just after midnight, Kennedy is shot point-blank by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year old Jordanian apparently angered by Kennedy's pro-Israel stance. Shock and mortification spread through the crowd and around the nation as Kennedy is rushed to the hospital, where he clings to life.
June 6, Robert Kennedy Dies
Robert Kennedy dies early in the morning at the age of 42. Newspapers across the nation run extensive coverage of the assassination, the second murder of a major American public figure in just two months.
June 7, RFK Assassin Jailed
Sirhan Sirhan is indicted in Robert Kennedy's murder. He will be convicted and sentenced to death on April 17, 1969. In 1972 the California State Supreme Court will declare capital punishment unconstitutional, and Sirhan Sirhan's sentence is converted to life in prison, where he remains today.
June 8, RFK Funeral
Senator Edward Kennedy delivers the eulogy at his brother's funeral, held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Afterwards, thousands of Americans line the tracks to pay their respects as a special train carries Robert Kennedy's body to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where he is interred in the cemetery's first and only nighttime burial.
June 27, Prague Spring
The reform movement known as the "Prague Spring" continues with protests against "foreign forces" trying to control Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union plans to meet the threat by stepping up military preparation for an invasion.
July 1, Nuclear Weapons Treaty
Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, agreeing not to transfer nuclear weapons to other nations or aid other nations in the development of nuclear weaponry. U.S. and Soviet diplomats plan to meet in late September to further pursue President Lyndon Johnson's proposed Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (S.A.L.T.).
July 3, Tiant Strikeout Feat
Cleveland Indians pitcher Luis Tiant sets a Major League Baseball record by striking out 19 Minnesota Twins batters over 10 innings.
July 7, Plans for D.N.C. Protest
Abbie Hoffman publishes an article titled, "The Yippies are Going to Chicago," announcing his group's plan to hold an anti-war "Festival of Life" in contrast with what it terms the "Festival of Death" at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. The Yippies have become known for their public protests, which have included disrupting trading at the New York Stock Exchange and destroying clocks in New York's Grand Central Terminal.
July 12, Opening Up to China
Vice President Hubert Humphrey calls for an end to trade restrictions with China and a shift of U.S. policy away from "confrontation and containment" of the Communist nation to one of "reconciliation and engagement."
July 15, Aeroflot Arrives
Commercial air travel begins between New York and Moscow when the first plane to fly the route, a Soviet Aeroflot jet, lands at Kennedy International Airport in New York.
July 20, First Special Olympics
The First International Special Olympic Games, organized by Eugene Kennedy Shriver, is held at Chicago's Soldier Field. Over 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada compete.
July 25, Pope Condemns the Pill
The Pope issues Humane Vitae ("Of Human Life"), a document condemning the birth control pill. Despite concern in some quarters that the drug is destroying American morals, Pill sales surpass $150 million in 1968.
August 8, Nixon Nominated
At the Republican convention in Miami, Richard Nixon edges out Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan for the party's presidential nomination. In his acceptance speech, he promises to bring "an honorable end to the war in Vietnam." The next day, he names Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate.
Promise of Detente
Newly appointed Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon says that if elected, he will "extend the hand of friendship to all peoples," including those in the Soviet Union and China.
August 20, Soviet Invasion
The reformists' "Prague Spring" ends in Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union sends more than 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops into the nation to begin a campaign of brutally enforced "normalization." U.S. president Lyndon Johnson cancels the September 30 S.A.L.T. summit meeting, which had been scheduled for joint U.S.-Soviet arms limitations talks.
August 26, D.N.C. Opens
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 the first night, demonstrations are widespread, but generally peaceful. Over the next two days, however, tension and violence will increase.
August 28, Chicago Violence
Chicago police assault demonstrators outside the Democratic convention, arresting 175 and sending more than 100 people to the hospital.
The chaos outside in the streets mirrors the confused proceedings inside the Democratic convention. Ultimately, Vice President Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota receives the party's nomination for the presidency.
August 29, RFK Memorialized
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention screen Robert Kennedy Remembered, a tribute commissioned by the Kennedy family, produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, and narrated by actor Richard Burton. The half-hour film is also aired nationally on all three broadcast television networks. It earns a five-minute standing ovation from the entire body of delegates, who then sing an impromptu chorus of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The New York Times reports that the hall erupted in "a thunder of hand-clapping and foot-stamping that drowned out the chairman's gravelings... It seemed that the convention had been momentarily united in emotion for the first time all week." Guggenheim's film will go on to win an Academy Award®.
September 7, Feminist Protests
women's Liberation groups protest outside the Miss America contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Though nothing is actually set on fire, one organizer uses the phrase "symbolic bra-burning" in an article in the New York Times, leading opponents of the women's movement to coin the derogatory label, "bra-burning feminists."
September 9, Ashe Wins U.S. Open
Arthur Ashe defeats Tom Okker to win the first U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing, New York. He is the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam tennis championship, and becomes the first African American to be ranked #1 in the sport.
September 10, Goodell Replaces Kennedy
Republican congressman Charles E. Goodell is named to Robert Kennedy's vacant Senate seat, announcing that he will "give continuity to Senator Kennedy's efforts in so many areas." Goodell favors halting Vietnam bombings and pledges to share Kennedy's "deep concern for the left-outs of society."
September 16, Nixon on Laugh-In
Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon appears on the popular NBC comedy and variety show, Laugh-In, saying one of the show's signature lines, "Sock it to me."
September 24, 60 Minutes Debuts
The television news program 60 Minutesmakes its first appearance on CBS, in the Sunday night 7 p.m. timeslot it still occupies.
September 30, 747 Introduced
Boeing unveils the first jumbo jet -- the six-story high, 710,000 pound 747.
(A Garry Trudeau comic strip, Bull Tales, makes its debut in the Yale Daily News, satirizing campus life. The strip will be renamed Doonesbury two years later when it goes into syndication, and will become famous for the mirror it holds up to American politics and society.
October 2, Mexico City Violence
Only ten days before the Summer Olympic games are scheduled to begin, demonstrations in Mexico City, Mexico result in army troops killing more than 300 student protesters.
October 7, RFK Scholarship
RFK's widow, Ethel Kennedy, creates the Robert F. Kennedy Scholarship at her daughters' school, the Stone Ridge Country Day School. It will be awarded annually to an African-American child living in an urban area of Washington D.C.
October 10, Baseball Champs
The Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 3, to win Major League Baseball's World Series.
October 11, Apollo 7 Mission
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo 7 spacecraft is launched into orbit, carrying three astronauts on board. The first space exploration mission with a live television downlink, Apollo 7 transmits footage of the astronauts and floating objects at zero gravity inside the spacecraft. At about six minutes after takeoff, Commander Walter Schirra reports, "She is riding like a dream."
October 12, Summer Olympics
The 19th Summer Olympic games open in Mexico City, Mexico. At 7,349 feet above sea level, the thin air hinders athletes' ability to compete up to par on endurance events -- but assists in the creation of new world records in sprinting and jumping events.
October 16, Medals Ceremony Protest
200-meter sprint medalists "Jet" Smith and John Carlos lower their heads and raise black-gloved fists during the playing of the American anthem, in protest of racism in the U.S.
October 18, Eldridge Cleaver
Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information for the controversial Black Panther Party and presidential candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party, speaks at American University.
October 29, RFK Memorial
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, a non-profit organization, is established as a "living memorial" to promote Kennedy's ideals both at home and overseas. It initiates awards and fellowship programs, as well as a center for human rights.
October 31, Bombing Halted
President Johnson announces that the U.S. military will cease all bombing in North Vietnam.
November 1, Film Rating System
The motion picture industry establishes the first film rating system, using the ratings of G for General Audiences, M for Mature Audiences, R for Restricted, and X for audiences of 17 years and older.
November 5, Nixon Elected
Richard Nixon is elected president of the United States. He receives 43.4 percent of the popular vote to 42.7 percent for Democrat Hubert Humphrey, with independent candidate George Wallace making a surprisingly strong showing with 13.5 percent.
November 13, The "Brezhnev Doctrine"
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev defends his nation's invasion of Czechoslovakia, announcing that the Soviet Union has both the right and the responsibility to "protect" socialist countries from Western, anti-Communist "subversion."
November 14, Draft Protests
Students celebrate "National Turn in Your Draft Card Day" with protest rallies on campuses across the United States.
November 26, Paris Peace Talks
The government of South Vietnam agrees to join in the Paris peace talks after months of delay.
The rock super-group Cream, featuring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, play their farewell concert at London's Royal Albert Hall.
November 27, Kissinger Selected
President-elect Richard Nixon selects Harvard professor henry Kissinger to serve as his national security advisor.
December 3, Elvis Comeback
Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special airs on NBC, marking the return of "The King of Rock 'n' Roll."
December 9, First Word Processor
Douglas Engelbart and fellow researchers unveil their "writing machine" at Stanford University. The world's first word processor, the "oNLine System" or "NLS," features the first computer mouse and the ability to call up electronic documents, cut and paste text, create hyperlinks and communicate with others over a network.
December 10, Nobel Science Prizes
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to Luis W. Alvarez for his work in subatomic particle physics; the Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Lars Onsanger for his work in thermodynamics; and the Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Robert W. Holley, Har Gobind Khorana and M. W. Nirenberg for their work in protein synthesis and cracking the genetic code.
Nobel Peace and Literature Prizes
The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabala and the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to René Cassin, a human rights activist who contributed to the drafting of the United Nations's Declaration of Human Rights.
December 12, Rory Kennedy Born
Robert and Ethel Kennedy's eleventh and last child, Rory, is born, six months after her father's assassination. The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards program is founded and dedicated to her. The awards "encourage and recognize outstanding achievement" in journalism covering topics of interest to RFK.
December 21, Apollo 8
NASA's Apollo 8 begins the first manned mission to the vicinity of the Moon. Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William A. Anders orbit the moon ten times at an altitude of 69.8 miles.
December 31, 1968 War Casualties
By the year's end, more than one million American soldiers have fought in Vietnam. At 549,000, the number of U.S. troops has reached its peak. In 1968 alone, 14,314 U.S. soldiers are killed and more than 200,000 wounded, bringing the cost of the war to $70 billion and total U.S. casualties to 31,000.