January 30, 2008

40 Years Ago in News History: 1968 Was More Than a Year

The Minneapolis Tribune, Jan. 31, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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The Minneapolis Tribune, Jan. 31, 1968 (Newseum collection)

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., April 5, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., April 5, 1968 (Newseum collection)

The Evening Sun, Baltimore, April 8, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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The Evening Sun, Baltimore, April 8, 1968 (Newseum collection)

Sunday Herald Traveler, Boston, June 9, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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Sunday Herald Traveler, Boston, June 9, 1968 (Newseum collection)

<i>Chicago Tribune</i>, Aug. 29, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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Chicago Tribune, Aug. 29, 1968 (Newseum collection)

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 24, 1968 (Newseum collection)
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Chicago Tribune, Dec. 24, 1968 (Newseum collection)

Rebellion and revolt. Radicals and rock.

"Nineteen sixty-eight was the volcanic center of the Sixties with landscape-altering eruptions every month," Tom Brokaw wrote in "Boom! Voices of the Sixties."

Today, 1968 is defined by its news.

Throughout the year, front pages brought graphic images from the unpopular Vietnam War. On Jan. 31, The Minneapolis Tribune reported a six-hour fight at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon at the start of the Tet offensive. News from Vietnam eventually contributed to President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision not to seek re-election, an announcement that the Chicago Tribune said stunned the nation.

Racial tensions had plagued the country in the early '60s, and a 1968 report by the Kerner Commission said racism and economic inequity triggered rioting in U.S. cities. The report prompted newsrooms across the country to hire more minorities.

In the spring, Americans were shocked when the country lost two leaders who spoke out against the war and battled for the rights of minorities and the poor.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4 to support striking sanitation workers when he was shot and killed while standing on a hotel balcony. "Looting, Arson Touched Off by Death," said The Commercial Appeal, which pleaded for calm in a front-page editorial and offered a reward for information.

Rioting erupted across the country after King's assassination. A three-line headline topped the April 8 Evening Sun of Baltimore: "Widespread Looting, Scattered Fires Continue in Baltimore."

Two months later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. On June 9, the Sunday Herald Traveler of Boston reported "Grieving Nation Bids RFK Adieu" and detailed "A Brother's Tribute" by Sen. Edward Kennedy.

That summer, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey won the Democratic nomination for president. "One Ballot; It's Hubert," the Chicago Tribune said on Aug. 29. Almost as large was a secondary headline, "Cops, Hippies War in Street," a reference to the protests and violence that marred the convention.

President-elect Richard M. Nixon dominated national newspapers, including the Nov. 6 Evening Star of Washington, D.C.: "He faces one of the most difficult periods in the history of the presidency," reporter Haynes Johnson wrote.

Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, was metro editor of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal during that fateful year.

"The tragic stories that dominated the front pages of the Beacon Journal during 1968 weighed heavily on all of us in the newsroom as moments in which we saw our world changing forever," Giles said. "In December, when Apollo 8 orbited the moon, we finally had a big story to feel good about."

During its historic mission, Apollo 8 sent images back to Earth. A picture of Earth taken from 200,000 miles in space appeared in the Dec. 24 Chicago Tribune. The photo's caption summed up the year's news:

"Earth in a New Perspective."

What historic event or topic in the news would you like us to feature next? Send your suggestion to talktous@newseum.org.

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