1968: The Year America Almost Tore Itself Apart

Published November 29, 2016
Updated January 22, 2019

From the assassinations of MLK and RFK to antiwar and civil rights protests nationwide, these 1968 photos reveal a nation at war with itself.

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On Christmas Eve of 1968, Americans saw the first photos of Earth ever taken from deep space by humans, courtesy of the astronauts aboard Apollo 8. Gazing at the seemingly peaceful blue marble from more than 200,000 miles away, one of the crew members remarked, "It looks like one planet from here."

Yet, around the world -- from riots in Paris to uprisings in Prague to civil war in Nigeria -- Earth was anything but. And perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in the United States, which indeed could only have looked like one harmonious nation from the deepest reaches of space.

Throughout this decisive year, the issues that had been bubbling up in the U.S. since the decade began (or even earlier) -- civil rights, the Vietnam War, women's rights, aid for the poor -- seemed to boil over all at once. From January to December across the country, demonstrations turned into protests that turned into riots that stopped not too far short of becoming civil war.

Some of the worst of those riots, for example, erupted in April following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Then, just two months later, with the nation still reeling, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated as well. That's the kind of year that 1968 was.

From those two assassinations to the war in Vietnam to the riots that made America look like a war zone itself, the 1968 photos above reveal a nation divided against itself like never before -- and, 2016's historically contentious presidential election notwithstanding, perhaps not since.

Next, check out 50 iconic photos that encapsulate the 1960s. Then, have a look at 44 spellbinding images that capture the upheaval of Paris in the 1960s.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.