In this lesson, students will view segments from The Vietnam War and complete a graphic organizer to help them make conclusions about what they see. They then will use the information from the organizer to role-play a police officer, demonstrator, convention delegate, or someone watching the convention at home. Then, they will write a letter to a friend or family member from the point of view of someone who witnessed the event.
The year 1968 was pivotal in American and world history. In January, the Tet Offensive shook Americans’ confidence in military and political leaders, and many questioned the idea of a “light at the end of the tunnel” in Vietnam. In March, President Lyndon Johnson withdrew his candidacy for another term. In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated after his victory in the California Democratic primary.
In August, Democrats met in Chicago for their convention. Nearly 15,000 protestors gathered in the city to demonstrate or disrupt the convention. Chicago’s mayor Richard J. Daley wanted to ensure that the convention would be peaceful. The outcome was what was later described as a “police riot” that was broadcast on national television.
Two 50-minute class periods.
- Research an important event that occurred during the Vietnam War.
- Recognize how people with different political perspectives may have viewed the events differently, and how their perspectives influenced their conclusions about the event.
- Write letters to friends or family members from the perspective of a police officer, delegate, demonstrator, or television viewer, describing what they observed.
- The 1968 Democratic National Convention
- Delegates and Demonstrators
- The Whole World Is Watching
- A Convention in Chaos
- 1968 Democratic National Convention Graphic Organizer
- Democratic National Convention (DNC) Letter Writing Activity
About The Author
Michael Hutchison is social studies department chair at Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana. A teaching veteran with more than 38 years of classroom experience, he has written curriculum for several Ken Burns films, including The Civil War, Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, Baseball, The Tenth Inning, The War, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. He is the winner of the 2014 Caleb Mills Indiana History Teacher of the Year Award.
- Begin the activity by questioning students about what they know about political conventions. Most students will likely know that the party meets to nominate candidates for president and vice president. Some students may also know that the party develops a platform, or statement of ideas that the candidates will run on.
- Continue the discussion by asking students if conventions have increased or decreased in significance over the past several elections. Students may note that nominees are now generally selected long before the conventions through the primary election process, and most presidential nominees announce their running mates in advance of the convention. You may note to students that most major television networks rarely cover most convention activities because they are generally considered to be anticlimactic.
- Next, move the discussion to the 1968 presidential election. Remind students that President Lyndon B. Johnson had won a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary that year against challenger Eugene McCarthy, senator from Minnesota. In mid-March, New York Senator Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and at the end of the month, Johnson withdrew from the race. Kennedy became the Democratic front-runner for the nomination, but was assassinated in June after winning the California primary. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered the race after Johnson’s withdrawal, won the nomination without entering a single primary.
- Distribute copies of the handout 1968 Democratic National Convention Graphic Organizer to each student. Have students watch the video segment and complete the graphic organizer. If time is an issue, viewing the clips and completing the organizer can be assigned as homework.
- Next, distribute copies of the DNC Letter Writing Activity. Have students use the information from the graphic organizer to role-play a participant or viewer of the convention riots. Allow students to select the role they want to play, or assign a particular role to each student. Have them write a letter to a friend or family member, reviewing what happened at the convention from the point of view of one of the following roles:
- A Chicago police officer
- A demonstrator
- A convention delegate
- An ordinary person watching the convention at home on TV
Have students share their letters in an open reading group.