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Tensions were high at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago from the very beginning. Here, Chicago police stand under a sign welcoming delegates to town.
The campaign had been marked by Lyndon B. Johnson's shocking decision to not run, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and mounting tensions over U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Protesters mocked the welcome sign, holding their own that read: "Welcome to Prague", a nod to the Soviet crackdown in Czechoslovakia several days earlier. Getty Images
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A young female protester stands in front of police officers holding guns outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A young protester makes a point to armed National Guardsmen. As many as 10,000 people showed up to protest outside the Democratic National Convention, which took place between Aug. 26 and Aug. 29. Getty Images
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Protesters climb a statue in Grant Park.
Mayor Richard J. Daley repeatedly insisted that “law and order will be maintained." Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images
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A woman inside the convention hall holds a "Stop the War" sign. Archive Images/Getty
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Protesters gather in Grant Park, a few miles away from the 1968 Democratic Convention. Charles H. Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Abbie Hoffman, left, and Lee Balterman, right, standing with protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Hoffman would later be a part of the "Chicago Seven": a group of protestors accused of crossing state lines to incite a riot. Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Beat poet Allen Ginsberg speaks to the crowd as Chicago police look on.
Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images
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Antiwar protesters wave flags from atop a statue. Charles H. Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Protesters join hands and form a circle around a statue of Civil War General John A. Logan on a horse in Grant Park.Charles H. Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Chicago police officers arrest a protester who had tried to scale the barricades outside the Democratic headquarters of the 1968 Democratic National Convention on Aug. 26, 1968. The protester also waved a Viet Cong flag in protest of the Vietnam War. APA/Getty Images
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An Army MP stands guard at the Democratic National Convention. Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Chicago police confront "yippie" protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Yippies were members of the Youth International Party. Three days before the convention started, they nominated a pig for president named "Pigasus."Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images
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A young woman offers a rose to the uniformed military policemen standing outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago.Santi Visalli/Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images
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A police officer marches a protester to a squad car as antiwar demonstrators chant around him.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Two police officers, both with cigars, detain a protester.
Between Chicago police, National Guardsmen, and federal troops, there were over 20,000 officers in place to control the protesters. Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images
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Chicago police wielding batons charge through Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic convention. Charles H. Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Protesters attempt to push over a police truck. Aug. 28, 1968. APA/Getty Images
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A crowd of protesters gather during the 1968 Democratic Convention. The large sign to the right reads: "Free The Black Political Prisoners/ Youth Against War And Fascism."
According to Chicago police records, of the 650 people arrested most were in their teens or 20s. Just 91 of the arrested protesters were over 30. NBCUniversal via Getty Images
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A protester reaches down to pick up a tear gas canister thrown into the crowd by Chicago police. Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images
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Aug. 28, 1968 was the bloodiest day of the convention. Police tried to stop a crowd of 15,000 people from marching from Grant Park to the convention hall, resulting
in the bloody "Battle of Michigan Avenue." APA/Getty Images
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As the night turned increasingly violent, the protesters' chant rang through the city streets: "The whole world is watching."
At one point, police pushed protesters through the glass windows of the Hilton hotel and into the hotel's lobby. As the protesters lay dazed among shards of glass, the police entered the hotel and beat them. Bettmann/Getty Images
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A photographer injured by police flashes a peace sign during an interview.
Agence France Presse/Getty Images
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Violence sometimes burst out even inside the convention hall. Here, a CBS reporter is thrown to the floor by security staff.
Dan Rather, another CBS reporter, was also manhandled by security in the convention hall. On live TV, he was knocked over and punched in the stomach. From the anchor booth, Walter Cronkite called the security staff "thugs." Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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The antiwar protesters had support within the convention hall. Here, members of the New York delegation hold "Stop the War" signs. Washington Bureau/Getty Images
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Protesters face off with police on Aug. 29, 1968 — the day Hubert Humphrey would accept his party's nomination to run for president — in front of the Conrad Hilton hotel.
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Newly-nominated Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey looks out at the protesters during Democratic National Convention.
Humphrey was the vice president of the incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson. But Humphrey had not run in the primaries. His nomination was secured by party delegates — which only added to the sense of rage among protesters. Photo by Stan Wayman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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A man injured during the protests is treated by a supporter of Senator Eugene McCarthy. Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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A medic bends to render aid to a man injured during the Aug. 29 clash between protesters and police. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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An injured protester wears a bandage over his eyes after participating in marches that turned violent. Miriam Bokser/Villon Films/Getty Images
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The tension surrounding the 1968 Chicago National Convention didn't end in August. The trial of the so-called Chicago Seven started in Sept. 1969. Here, people protesting the trial taunt police. MPI/Getty Images
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Protests surrounding the trial of the Chicago Seven turned violent. Here, Chicago Police Captain Paul McLaughlin, left, and an unidentified sergeant, clash with protesters outside the Federal Building, where eight people were put on trial for conspiring to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The eighth man, Black Panther Bobby Seale, was later tried separately from the other seven. Bettmann/Getty Images
32 Photos That Capture The Shocking Violence Of The 1968 Democratic National Convention
Of all the years of American history, 1968 stands out as one of the bloodiest. That year saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and racial unrest. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago embodied many of these tensions — with violent results.
No one had any illusions about the possibility of violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley padded his police force with thousands of National Guardsmen and federal troops and swore to keep the peace. But nothing could stop the coming storm.
For a stretch of hot days at the end of August 1968, the streets of Chicago erupted in violence — as Democrats gathered a few miles away to nominate their candidate for president.
The Bloody Months Leading Up To The 1968 Democratic Convention
Wikimedia CommonsA march protesting the Vietnam War in August 1968.
The year 1968 got off to a bloody start. At the end of January, the Tet Offensive tore through Vietnam — and played out on Americans' television screens at home. This series of attacks by communist forces showed Americans just how badly the war was going. Even the trusted broadcaster Walter Cronkite noted a month later that:
"To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past ... To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion."
President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked that if he'd lost Cronkite, then he'd lost America. Indeed, he made the shocking decision not to run for reelection that March, throwing the country into further political confusion.
The dominoes of violence kept falling. In April that year, the prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Tennessee. In June, Bobby Kennedy was killed while running for president in California — just a few years after his brother John F. Kennedy met a similar fate.
Meanwhile, the antiwar movement was gaining steam and getting louder. Many young Democrats threw their weight behind Senator Eugene McCarthy, seen to be the antiwar candidate. Others, however, had given up on the process entirely.
"We didn't see the use of electoral politics," said Judy Gumbo, a member of the Youth International Party (called "Yippies"). "We hadn't seen it do anything to end the war."
As the 1968 Democratic National Convention approached, it seemed to many the perfect place to air their grievances.
A Divided Party And A Virulently Antiwar Movement Meet In The Hot Chicago Summer
Wikimedia CommonsAn ocean of protestors gather outside the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Democrats arrived in Chicago in August 1968 without a candidate. That meant that they would choose a nominee from three men: Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Senator McCarthy, and Senator George McGovern. Thus, the 1968 Democratic Convention promised drama — even without the thousands of protesters that had descended in Chicago.
What did the protesters want? They came to Chicago with myriad motivations. But most agreed on two things: ending the Vietnam War and challenging the Democratic establishment.
As delegates, protesters, and spectators descended on Chicago, they found a city in the throes of a heatwave, its streets packed with police officers. Richard Daly had promised to maintain "law and order." Alongside thousands of Chicago police, he'd enlisted the help of the National Guard and federal troops.
Tensions sparked and crackled between police and protesters. And it wasn't long before that tension exploded into violence. The protesters, determined to march to the convention hall, were pushed back by baton-wielding police.
In one especially violent moment, police pushed protesters against the Hilton hotel — sending them flying through the glass window and into the lobby. Then, the police followed the dazed protesters inside and beat them in front of horrified spectators.
The interior of the 1968 Democratic Convention was more civilized — but only just.
The New York delegation stood up and screamed about stopping the war. Reporters covering the event were manhandled by security, leading Cronkite to call them "thugs" from his anchor booth. And the eventual nomination of Hubert Humphrey led to groans in the conventional hall — Humphrey had not even run in the primaries.
The Legacy Of The 1968 Democratic National Convention
Wikimedia CommonsThe Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, would squeak to victory in 1968.
The 1968 Democratic Convention had immediate — and lingering — effects on the country. The whole bloody affair was broadcast on TV, to the shock of nations around the world. It seemed to embody the uncertainty, fear, and fury that pulsed through the United States in the 1960s.
In the end, Hubert Humphrey would narrowly lose to the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War would drag on for several more bloody years. And the images of the police beating protesters in Chicago would continue to sear the national memory — demonstrating the fragility of the American experiment.
After reading about the events at the 1968 Democratic Convention, learn about the Chicago Seven, who were arrested for inciting a riot there. Or, meet Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket.
A longtime contributor and current staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.