The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in August 1968, in the summer of a tumultuous year. The events of that month, and a subsequent court case, are the subject of the new Aaron Sorkin movie “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Here is a timeline of the protests and subsequent trial that the film explores.
The year 1968 was a year of increasing protests against the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy in June and Martin Luther King Jr. in April and subsequent unrest, including in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhoods.
The convention was held over four days at the International Amphitheatre on Hasted Street on the South Side. Between Aug. 26-29, the Democratic Party would select Hubert Humphrey as its candidate for the presidential election the following November. (Incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson had withdrawn; Humphrey would be defeated in the election by Richard Nixon.)
Before and during the convention, rallies and protests were held in downtown lakefront parks, including Grant Park several miles away from the convention site, mostly about American involvement in Vietnam under LBJ. Some were organized by the Yippies, the Youth International Party founded by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and a few friends and known for their street theater-style protests in New York. Another organizer was the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (aka MOBE).
In Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley said repeatedly that “law and order will be maintained” during the convention. Protesters were denied permits to march in the Loop and near the Amphitheatre. Smaller protests and demonstrations in the days leading up to the convention ended with police intervention, including a Yippie-led “nomination” of a pig for president in Civic Center plaza Aug. 23.
The city granted permission for a single afternoon rally in Grant Park on Aug. 28. That rally drew a crowd of several thousand, with a number of protesters afterwards moving into the Loop. They were stopped by police and the National Guard in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, where the presidential candidates and their campaigns were headquartered. The ensuing clash with police was televised nationwide, with Americans treated to images of tear gas filling the evening air and chaotic and bloody clashes between young protestors and the police, alternating with coverage of Humphrey’s nomination.
In the aftermath in September, a federal grand jury met to consider criminal charges. A group that became known as the Chicago 7 was charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot and other crimes. The original eight defendants indicted on March 20, 1969, were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale. Weiner was the only Chicagoan. Seale was tried separately during the proceedings.
Separately, eight police officers were charged with violating the civil rights of demonstrators by use of excessive force.
The Chicago 7 trial opened before Judge Julius Hoffman in a courtroom for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago on Sept. 24, 1969. It would drag on for several months, with frequent courtroom disruptions. Seale, who is Black, was gagged and bound to a chair on Oct. 29 after he spoke up in his own defense. The case finally went to the jury on Feb. 14, 1970. The next day Judge Hoffman convicted all defendants, plus defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, of contempt of court.
The jury returned its verdicts on Feb. 18, 1970. Froines and Weiner were acquitted. Dellinger, Davis, Hayden, Hoffman and Ruben were convicted of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot. But in subsequent proceedings, the judge’s contempt charges were reversed, and all of the convictions for inciting riots were overturned.
SOURCES: Chicago Tribune; CNN; History.com; Wikipedia; Smithsonian Magazine; Britannica; Encyclopedia of Chicago; Chicago History Museum
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