The National Archives and 1968: A Year of Triumph and Tragedy

Today’s post comes from Kerri Lawrence, Writer-Editor for the National Archives News. This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year of turmoil and change in the United States and the world.  

Protesters and Chicago police officers in Grant Park, 8/28/1968. (National Archives Identifier 6210767)

In reflection, 1968 was a year of triumph and tragedy. International and national events changed the landscape of America and the world around it forever. Now 50 years later, the National Archives holds records of the events that shaped our nation during that critical era.

A turning point in U.S. history, 1968 was a year filled with social and political upheavals. In the air, America reached victorious new heights with NASA’s Apollo 8 orbiting the Moon and Boeing’s first 747 jumbo flight.

Marines waiting at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, helo pad crouch against a bunker as mortar rounds come in, 3/1/1968. (National Archives Identifier 26387812)

On the ground, however, tragedies altered the landscape of the nation forever. The assassinations of equal rights advocates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy stunned America and heightened social unrest. Marches for freedom and a call for unity prevailed.

As the Vietnam War continued halfway around the world, the loss of American troops in the Tet Offensive and Hue continued to divide an America weary of war. Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, and others in Washington, DC, as well as the election of President Richard M. Nixon altered the political landscape forever. 

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Presidential candidate Richard Nixon leans to shake hands with a crowd at a campaign event. An attendee holds a “Sock It To Em” sign, 9/1968. (National Archives Identifier 16916006)

Nineteen sixty-eight marked the enactment of the landmark Civil Rights Act. American women started a vocal movement focused on equal rights for females. U.S. amateur athletes competed at the Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France, and the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.

As with other events in U.S. history, big and small, the National Archives holds records documenting this often turbulent, triumphant, and transformative time and makes them publicly available for all. Explore the records in the National Archives Catalog related to all the triumphs and tragedies, social and political upheavals, that forever changed our country.

Visit the National Archives special topics web page dedicated to all things 1968. It includes video and audio resources, blogs, exhibits, and images all available at the National Archives.


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