1968, Apollo 7, Apollo 8, Apollo missions, assassination, Black Panthers, Catholic Church, Civil Rights, Elections, Feminism, Florida Education Association, George Wallace, Humanae vitae, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Moon, Moon landing, North Korea, police, Pope Paul VI, President Richard Nixon, Protests, Richard M. Nixon, Riots, Robert Kennedy, sit-ins, teacher's strike, USS Pueblo, Vietnam War, Women's Rights
1968. Fifty years ago our country was in chaos. Only five years had passed since President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The man who became President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had accomplished amazing milestones in civil rights, protections for the elderly (Medicare and Medicaid) and had expanded programs in public broadcasting and the arts, but the country was torn apart by the war in Vietnam, and he had increased the number of U.S. troops in the war to over half a million.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was still recovering from the fire in January of the previous year that killed three astronauts as they sat helplessly in the command module on the launch pad, and the Apollo program had yet to launch a manned mission with only two years left to honor President Kennedy’s goal.
At the start of the year, everything in the world seemed to be collapsing. The year would test our society’s threshold of endurance. These are twelve days that defined 1968. (Source: Wikipedia – 1968)
- January 23
- North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, creating an international incident that remained in the news for most of 1968. North Korea claimed the ship was spying on their country and violated its territorial waters. Its mission was to observe and gather intelligence and at the time of capture, the crew attempted to destroy classified information on the Pueblo, but only succeeded in destroying a small amount of the documents and equipment. One crewmember was killed by North Korean fire in the attempt to capture the boat. The crew was tortured and starved during the eleven months of imprisonment. They were released just before Christmas 1968. The USS Pueblo is still held in North Korea and is still a commissioned ship of the United States Navy.
- February 13
- Civil rights disturbances occur at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This would be one of many protests, sit-ins, and riots, in the United States, England, France, Germany, and other countries over civil rights, the Vietnam war, and other social issues. Many of those involved in the year of civil disobedience would be injured or killed in clashes with law enforcement.
- The Florida Education Association (FEA) initiates a mass resignation of teachers to protest state funding of education. This is, in effect, the first statewide teachers’ strike in the United States.
- NET televises the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
- March 16
- Vietnam War – My Lai Massacre: American troops kill scores of civilians. The story will first become public in November 1969 and will help undermine public support for the U.S. efforts in Vietnam.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson, the incumbent, narrowly won the first Democratic primary to a minor candidate on March 11, and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. President Johnson would end his campaign two weeks after Kennedy makes his announcement.
- April 4
- Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupt in major American cities, lasting for several days afterward.
- A shootout between Black Panthers and Oakland police results in several arrests and deaths, including 16-year-old Panther Bobby Hutton.
- A double explosion in downtown Richmond, Indiana kills 41 and injures 150.
- May 17
- The Catonsville Nine enter the Selective Service offices in Catonsville, Maryland, take dozens of selective service draft records, and burn them with napalm as a protest against the Vietnam War.
- June 5
- U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan Sirhan is arrested. Kennedy dies from his injuries the next day.
- July 25
- Pope Paul VI publishes the encyclical entitled Humanae vitae, on birth control. This voided a church commissioned study (Pontifical Commission on Birth Control) that determined birth control to NOT be inherently evil, and that couples should decide for themselves about the use of birth control. The Pope’s decision inserted the church into a conflict that continues to this day.
- August 20
- The Prague Spring of political liberalization ends, as 750,000 Warsaw Pact troops, 6,500 tanks, and 800 planes invade Czechoslovakia. It is dated as the biggest operation in Europe since WWII ended.
- September 6
- 150 women (members of New York Radical Women) arrive in Atlantic City, NJ to protest against the Miss America Pageant, as exploitative of women. Led by activist and author Robin Morgan, it is one of the first large demonstrations of Second Wave Feminism as Women’s Liberation begins to gather much media attention.
- October 11
- Apollo program: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission (Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, Walter Cunningham). Mission goals include the first live television broadcast from orbit and testing the lunar module docking maneuver. The United States is back in space for the first time since the Apollo 1 disaster.
- In Panama, a military coup d’état, led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijos, overthrows the democratically elected (but highly controversial) government of President Arnulfo Arias. Within a year, Torrijos ousts Martinez and takes charge as de facto Head of Government in Panama.
- November 5
- U.S. presidential election, 1968: Republican challenger Richard Nixon defeats the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace. President Nixon would throw the country into a Constitutional crisis six years later and be forced to resign from office.
- December 24