Remembering Turmoil In the Streets And On The Floor Of The '68 Democratic Convention

Aug 1, 2018

Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, surrounded by Illinois delegates, responds to criticism at the 1968 convention.
Credit Library of Congress/US News And World Report Collection

Fifty years ago, the Democratic National Convention shocked America with violence in the streets and anger in the convention hall. On Aug. 2, four people who were there will look back in a panel discussion at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Ed Burke, now an alderman, was a Chicago police officer working on the convention floor. Dick Simpson had a prominent role in the Eugene McCarthy campaign. Bernard Sieracki was a college student, recently discharged from the Army. Taylor Pensoneau covered it for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The four will share their memories of the 1968 convention, how America reacted to it, and what impact it has today. Their discussion will be moderated by Mark DePue, head of the presidential library’s Oral History Program.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the museum building (212 N. Sixth Street, Springfield). It costs $8 for the public or $5 for members of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Tickets are available by visiting www.PresidentLincoln.illinois.gov and clicking “Special Event Reservations.”

In the past, any excitement surrounding a presidential nominating convention had usually centered on political maneuvering inside the hall. But 1968 was a year of extraordinary turmoil and change.

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, facing intense anger over the Vietnam War, had chosen not to run for re-election. Candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated not long after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. A new spirit of protest and resistance was growing.

When roughly 10,000 protesters gathered, with some determined to spark a confrontation, they were met by 23,000 Chicago police and Illinois National Guard troops. The clash turned violent. Taunted by the crowds, police beat protesters and sprayed tear gas recklessly.

A commission later called it a “police riot” and concluded there had been “indiscriminate police violence … made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law.”

Inside Chicago’s International Amphitheatre, politicians turned on one another. One speaker accused the police of “Gestapo tactics.” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley angrily denied any wrongdoing. The chaos deepened Democratic divisions and weakened the nominee, Hubert Humphrey.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is dedicated to telling the story of America’s 16th president through old-fashioned scholarship and modern technology. It also serves as the Illinois historical library. The library maintains an unparalleled collection of Lincoln documents, photographs, artifacts and art and also has some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.