During the last week of August in 1968, almost 29 million television viewers in the United States and another countless millions around the world watched as police and anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed violently in the streets of downtown Chicago, while a party in turmoil battled over who would be its eventual presidential nominee during a contentious Democratic National Convention.
These are the scenes and the voices heard in “Decades Presents 1968: The DNC,” a new documentary from the Decades Network.
“It was a tragedy not only for the Democratic Party, it was a tragedy for the United States, it was a tragedy for the democratic process, it was a tragedy for the world, ” said Newton Minow, the legendary former FCC chairman under President John F. Kennedy, who served as an alternate Illinois delegate at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
“This was the collapse, to us, of our democracy…. They were splitting skulls,” said Peter Yarrow, the folk singer from the trio Peter, Paul and Mary who performed at the DNC.
“It was a horrible time,” added Tom McDonough, a now-retired Chicago police officer who responded to demonstrators during convention protests in Chicago’s Lincoln Park 50 years ago. “I was young, I wasn’t married and — if I sound like I’m getting to be like a poet — my heart was down. I thought this country and this city was going to hell in a hand basket.”
Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party took the national stage in Chicago to nominate their presidential candidate. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, combined with a virulent anti-war movement and the shock of President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election, were all kindling to a convention already poised to be a powder keg.
The spark that would later ignite the city and horrify the country may have been inevitable. The images from that week still have the power to shock today.
“I always compared it to all of this boiling water going on in ’68 and finally the top blew off in Chicago,” said William Daley, the son of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, who attended every day of the convention with his father.
Premiering August 6 at 9 p.m. Eastern on Decades (with subsequent airings on August 17, 25 and 28), “The DNC” features interviews with Rennie Davis, Bill Kurtis, Bill Daley, Peter Yarrow, Chicago Police and more.
“Decade Presents 1868: The DNC” is the eighth installment of the 12-part series “Decades Presents: 1968,” weaves together a powerful story from those who were there to shed light on this monumental political event of the 20th century.
Even 50-years on, there is no single agreed-upon narrative between those who witnessed the national spectacle.
Decades is a partner of CBS Television.