Remembering the violent Chicago summer of 1968, 50 years later

50 years since violent summer of 1968

CHICAGO — Fifty years ago, Vice President Hubert Humphrey accepted the Democratic nomination for president. It came at the end of a violent week in the summer of a violent year.

Now it's hard to imagine Grant Park as the site of a bloody battlefield. But 50 years ago was a time when civil rights might have been legal, but the resistance to them was lethal. It was a time of body counts and assassinations.

"We were for peace. We were for ending the war," said Mike James.

He was one of about 10,000 demonstrators who intersected with thousands of Chicago police officers, national guardsmen — a flammable mix on Michigan Avenue that would later be called a police riot.

CBS News cameraman Del Hall wasn't doing anything wrong during a march, but wound up on the wrong end of a police baton.

"I really believe I was the first person hit. I was not the last person," Hall said.

At the Democratic convention five miles away, reporters were roughed up and anchors were ruffled.

Chicago alderman Ed Burke was a cop inside the convention hall.

"A tea kettle has to let off steam some place, and I think the nation let off that steam here in the heartland in Chicago," Burke said.

For many, Chicago in the summer of '68 was a lesson in bad behavior on both sides.

"It was, in a sense, a watershed year never be repeated, hopefully," Burke said.

It may be worth thinking about 1968 amid today's deep division, and remember how the country once looked when the whole world was watching.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.