How Americans celebrated Independence day in 1968

Culture | July 1, 2021

Washington D.C. after riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Source: (Wikipedia).

In 1968, America was in turmoil. Between the situation in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the riots, including the Holy Week Uprising, which was spreading across the country, it was a time that the typical patriotic celebrations of July 4 seemed a bit out of place. Americans were skeptical of the government, and some people consider the period the greatest time of unrest since the Civil War. With the Holy Week Uprising, there were more than 100 cases of unrest in cities across the country following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Americans were also upset by the situation in Vietnam, as the My Lai massacre had occurred on March 16, 1968, and the country was in the midst of the Tet Offensive, which began on January 31, 1968.

A Gallup poll at the beginning of the summer found that 36 percent of Americans thought the country had a “sick society,” and earlier in the spring, Gallup indicated that Americans were divided on the issue of Vietnam. That number indicated a deeper division by the end of the summer when 53 percent did not agree with the war, and only 35 percent believed the war was justified. 

Governor Ronald Reagan. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives. Source: (Wikipedia).

Flower Children And Ronald Reagan In California

Across the country and around the world, the divisions were reflected in the ways that people observed the holiday. In Berkeley, California, crowds filled Telegraph Ave. They ate ice cream, distributed flowers, and the children played with firecrackers. Meanwhile, the Young Socialist Alliance held a peaceful rally to speak about the Vietnam War and the new government in France. Also in California, then-governor Ronald Reagan spoke to a crowd in Columbia, stating that "they have lost faith in government’s ability to protect them.’’

President Lyndon Johnson. Source: (Wikipedia).

President Johnson Spoke In Texas

 The day was peaceful in New York City, where the streets were quiet and the city did not have an official celebration, although smaller, observances did happen. Other cities contended with protests, however. In Washington, 150 protesters demonstrated on the National Mall, but their focus was on unemployment and housing issues. Twenty-three of the protestors were arrested after they broke through a police line and sat down to eat watermelon. Thirty-five Quaker protestors later joined in solidarity in Lafayette Park. On July 3, protestors in Minnesota had disrupted a planned speech by George Wallace. President Johnson chastised the protestors, expressing concern about the “intolerance that prevented Mr. Wallace from speaking.” During that same San Antonio speech, he spoke about how the impoverished, minorities, the ill, and those who live with the fear of crime lack independence, “despite our Fourth of July rhetoric.”

In Philadelphia, Vice President Hubert Humphrey gave the annual Fourth of July Speech in front of a crowd of 20,000. Several dozen in the crowd held up signs saying “Stop Hubert.” Meanwhile, across the street, supporters of Eugene McCarthy chanted “End the war now!”

Cornelis Vreeswijk, Fred Akerstrom, and Gosta Cervin at a 1965 protest in Stockholm, a site of protests on July 4, 1968. Source: (Wikipedia).

A Few International Protests And Some Celebrations

Protests also happened internationally. Australians in Melbourne smashed the U.S. Consulate’s windows, painted the steps red, and tore down the American flag. Meanwhile, in Brisbane, there was an anti-war parade, which 10,000 people watched, and in Stockholm, Sweden, 2,000 people marched in an anti-war demonstration.

However, people were also celebrating internationally. More than 8,000 people gathered to celebrate the Fourth in Denmark. The main speaker, Premier Hilmar Baunsgaard, did, however, speak against the U.S. policy in Vietnam. Ten thousand Americans and Germans came together in West Berlin for a parade. The U.S. embassy in Moscow celebrated with hot dogs and ice cream.

Source: (Pinterest).

In Many Towns, The Celebrations Went On

And in many small towns across America, people celebrated with their neighbors, enjoying barbecues, baseball, and fireworks. As a resident of Guthrie, Iowa told The New York Times, “We do love our country, it’s been good to us. We know things are wrong with it, but we still feel we can right these wrongs through the ballot box and not through all this carrying on burning and rioting.” 

Tags: 1960s | 4th Of July | fourth of July

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Linda Speckhals


When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.