School of the Arts

Remembering 1968: The 50th Anniversary of a Tumultuous Year

The 50th Anniversary of 1968: A Year to Remember


CSU, Chico’s School of the Arts and the history department present the history roundtable Remembering 1968: The 50th Anniversary of a Tumultuous Year. This event takes place Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall. The roundtable is free and open to the public.

1968 was a significant year due to political and cultural awakenings. During this time period a series of events unfolded: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the New Politics, the Tet Offensive, Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, the new Springtime of Revolutions, the still flowering counterculture, the burgeoning women’s movement, the environmental movement, the backlash and so much more.

"It was a turning point, but it was a very confused turning point," said historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who spent part of that year as a political advisor for Robert Kennedy.

counterculture hair protest

The inspiration behind this roundtable originated from the book “1968: The Rise and Fall of the New American Revolution,” co-authored by CSU, Chico history professor Robert Cottrell. This is the 50th anniversary of that monumental year. 

“I certainly personally remember the year 1968,” said Cottrell, “1968 was the year I began college and became more politically engaged.”

Partaking in the roundtable will be history faculty members Steve Lewis, Cottrell, Kate Transchel, and Rod Thomson. They will discuss how the events of 1968 had an impact locally, nationally, and globally.

“It is recalled most of all as the year when revolution beckoned or threatened, depending upon one’s perspective. For a time, it seemed as if anything were possible in 1968 that utopian visions could be borne out in the political, cultural, racial and gender spheres,” Cottrell said.

women's march

Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall is located in Room 134 of the Performing Arts Center on CSU, Chico’s campus. For those who need special seating accommodations, please call 530-898-6333. More information is available online at the School of the Arts website and Facebook page


Story by Tashia Jones, School of the Arts publicity assistant

1968: Historians see Year as Turning Point

vietnam soldier
Vietnam War soldier

Below is an excerpt from the story on 1968 written by Mitchell Landsberg, AP national writer.

The waves that were rising in 1967 crashed in 1968. The year started on an ominous note when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, a Navy spy ship. Its 83 crew members were held until December.

Then, at the end of January, during the Vietnamese New Year celebration of Tet, North Vietnam launched a vast offensive against U.S.-held bases and cities throughout South Vietnam. Communist soldiers swarmed into the U.S. Embassy compound in Saigon. Casualties were heavy on both sides.

In retrospect, many military historians say Tet was a defeat for the North. But psychologically, it was clearly a victory. The message it sent was that an American victory in Vietnam would only come at an enormous price. Many Americans decided it was a price they would not pay.

Martin Luther King, Jr. portrait-style
Martin Luther King, Jr.

After that, the year seemed to lurch from one shock to the next.

On March 31, President Lyndon Johnson went on television to announce - in words that many Americans can still recite - "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your president."

On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in Memphis. Within hours, riots erupted in 110 American cities. Some of the worst were in Washington, and the symbolism was powerful. The nation's capital lay under a pall of smoke; the fires were the worst since the War of 1812.

For many Americans, especially black Americans, King's murder extinguished hope that the nation's racial wounds could be healed, or that a decent leader - a hero - could triumph. But others put their hope in the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, bearer of the mantle of his brother's presidency, champion of the poor and dispossessed.

 Robert Kennedy
Robert Kennedy

Robert Shetterly, who is white, remembers being shocked by the King assassination. But his hope lasted two more months. Then, on June 5, Kennedy was shot. He died the next day.

"That was the first time during this whole thing that I actually wept," he remembers. "I guess that's because Bobby Kennedy seemed to be the last one . . . the last hope. When he was taken away, that was just like this black hole opened up underneath."

A student at Georgetown University, Tom Caplan, remembers being awakened the morning of June 6 with the news that Kennedy had been shot. He sought out a housemate, Bill Clinton, and the two sat stunned, absorbing the loss.

"It stunned one into silence, so there weren't any memorable quotations," said Caplan, now a novelist in Baltimore. "It was as if you had been hit."