The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 not only shocked and saddened the nation, it also catapulted the Democratic Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson into the oval office. After finishing up Kennedy's remaining term, Johnson won another four year presidential term of his own.
While Johnson made many strides in things such as civil rights and the Great Society, his legacy soon became the unpopular Vietnam War. While Johnson was eligible to run again for a second term, only 26 percent of the nation backed his policy on the war. So, on March 31, 1968, the nation was stunned once again when Johnson announced, “I will not seek another term,” which was the last thing the American people expected.
The country was immediately thrown into an upcoming race for who was going to take Johnson's place as Commander-in-Chief and occupy the White House. At first glance it appeared as though Hubert H. Humphrey, who was Johnson's vice president, appeared to be the front runner on the Democratic ticket, and former Vice President Richard Nixon on the Republican ticket. But, soon the Democratic ticket became crowded.
New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race and won his first primary in May 1968 in Indiana. Then, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy won a stunning upset in Oregon. George McGovern was also entered into the race. The New York governor, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, was Nixon's only credible challenger.
Basically, every candidate campaigned on promises of getting us out of the Vietnam War except for Humphrey, who ran on a platform of supporting the war and bringing it to an honorable conclusion.
On April 4 of that year, the world was stunned once again as the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, stole the spotlight from the primary races. If that was not bad enough, we were in mourning once again on June 5 when Kennedy was shot just minutes after completing a statement claiming victory in the California primaries at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. That win thrust him into the Democratic lead in the primaries.
As he lay on the concrete floor it was discovered he had been shot twice in the head, once in the forehead, and once near the right ear. Five supporters standing near the senator in the crowded Embassy Room were also wounded.
The assassin was immediately apprehended, a 24-year-old Jerusalem-born Jordanian. Robert Kennedy died the next day in the hospital just 20 hours after being shot, and only 4 1/2 years after his brother, JFK, was shot in Dallas.
As the year moved along, at the Democratic Convention in Chicago that August, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination amid chaos. Anti-war protesters disrupted the proceedings as they gathered in nearby Grant Park and proceeded the four blocks to the convention center. The most violent rioting erupted when hundreds of policemen, brandishing nightsticks, charged the organizers. Amid the tear gas and blood, more than 100 were injured, including children, the elderly and members of the press who were watching when the police turned on them.
This catastrophe pretty much did in the Democrats. In November 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president along with his running mate, Spiro T. Agnew.
On April 23, 1969, the 25-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, sat impassively as a Los Angeles jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
The state based most of its evidence on notebooks found in Sirhan's room in which the defendant had written that Senator Kennedy and others must die. Sirhan testified during his trial that he did not remember shooting Kennedy and could not recall writing anything about Kennedy in the notebook.
Reference: “Chronicle of the 20th Century” published by Chronicle Publications of Mount Kisco, New York.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.