The Year 1968


The year 1968 was a year of chaos, conflict and change—all brought into America’s living rooms by television. It began in January with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and ended with the successful completion of the Apollo 8 moon orbit mission. In between we saw civil rights struggles, student protests, political upheaval, and the assassination of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Join Active Minds as we travel back in time to this key year in history to explore these and other important events.

Key Lecture Points

  • 1968 was a year of chaos, conflict and change—all brought into America’s living rooms by television.  It began in January with the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War that caused Americans to question what they were being told by their leaders and if the war could be won.  Tet fueled the growing anti-war movement and led to President Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek re-election.
  • The Civil Rights Movement continued in 1968 with the Poor People’s March in Washington, DC, the passage of the Fair Housing Act and US Olympic athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, giving Black Power salutes at the Summer Olympics.
  • It was a year of tragedy with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr in April which set off riots in more than 100 cities across the nation.  Just two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed after winning the California Democratic Primary.
  • Student protests broke out across the country’s college campuses.  At Columbia University students occupied five school buildings, including the university president’s office, for more than 6 days before police cleared the campus.
  • The 1968 Democratic Party Presidential Convention is remembered for the thousands of protesters who came from all over the country to disrupt the convention.  The Chicago Police were called in to restore order and Americans watched on TV as the police wielded clubs and tear gas against the demonstrators.  In November, Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate, beat the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, by a narrow margin.
  • This tumultuous year ended on an inspirational note with the successful completion of the Apollo 8 mission in which for the first time, humans orbited the Moon.
  • 1968 was the height of the “counterculture” in which young people defied authority and tradition; and pursued unconventional lifestyles including communes, sexual experimentation and drug use.

Exploration Questions

  • What was the Tet Offensive?   What is its significance to the Vietnam War?
  • Aside from the war, name three other major events that happened in 1968 and describe their significance.

Reflective Questions

  • Some historians have called 1968 the most divisive year in American history. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Do you think our society is more divided today than in 1968? Why? Why not?
  • What do you remember as the most disruptive event that happened in 1968? How did it affect your life?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • O’Donnel, Lawrence. Playing with Fire: the 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. Penguin Press, 2017. 496 pages. This book explains how Humphrey and Nixon became their party’s nominee and how Nixon won the election.
    Click here to order
  • Bowden, Mark. Hue 1968:A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017. 608 pages. Drawing from war archives in the US and Vietnam as well as interviews with participants from both sides, the author describes this crucial battle of the Tet Offensive, from its capture by communist forces to the retaking by American and South Vietnamese forces.
    Click here to order
  • Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Picador USA, 2008. 416 pages. Wolfe brings alive Ken Kersey, his Merry Pranksters, LSD tripping and the Sixties.
    Click here to order