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Martin Luther King Jr. And 1968: The Turning Point In American History

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction: The Pivotal Year of 1968 in American History
  2. The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Its Impact on the Civil Rights Movement
  3. The Vietnam War and Public Distrust: The Tet Offensive as a Catalyst
  4. Conclusion: Why 1968 Remains a Defining Year in American History
  5. References

Introduction: The Pivotal Year of 1968 in American History

America’s history is filled with many eventful years, but none are as eventful as the year 1968. 1968 was a presidential election year, a leap year, a year of violence, and the year that citizens found their freedom of speech. Some describe 1968 as “a year of triumphs and tragedies, social and political upheavals, that changed our country forever.” (1968: A Year of Turmoil and Change 2018). The year 1968 is also described as the turning point in Americas history because of the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests, and the technological advancements made throughout this eventful year that would forever change America.

In 1968, minorities were still struggling to find acceptance in the American society, but the fight for civil rights movement took a turn for the worst. The first major blow to the movement that year was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. King fought for “all people in the United States to have economic equality.” On one faithful day in April 1968, “King’s advisors wanted him to go to Memphis in support of the strike called by the black sanitation workers.” The sanitation workers in Memphis were paid “meager wages” while white workers were “paid full wages” (Walker 2008, 60).”King was scheduled to speak the following day, but Abernathy called King at the Lorraine Motel when he saw the size of the crowd.” King spoke to the crowd about the “injustice” taking place in Memphis (64). On April 4, 1968 at the Abernathy Hotel, “King stepped on the balcony” and then, there was a “popping sound…a gun had been fired” (67). King was “pronounced dead” at the hospital after a failed surgery to save him. King was the civil rights “leader, their hope” and many wondered if the movement “had died with King” (68). After the death of King was announced “more than 150 cities across the country reported riots.”

King, “the leader who preached nonviolence” was now the reason so many ensued violence all over the nation (73). The riots were responsible for 46 deaths, 2600 injuries, and 22000 arrests for “looting”. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy told the nation “that fighting each other would achieve nothing” (74). Kings death and the riots that ensued after forced legislatures to build onto the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which “ outlawed discrimination…required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote” (Civil Rights Act of 1964 2016). Kings supporters continued his work in demanding equality and several years after his death, “Congress passed the Equal Educational Opportunities Act” that “ensures no child is denied access to quality education, regardless of his or her race” (Asselin 2014, 92). King’s supporters were motivated by the assassination to continue their leaders work and to fulfill his dreams of equality among all people. Because of this, the events that occurred and the advancements made because of them in the civil rights movement is one of the reasons that 1968 is considered the turning point in American history.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Its Impact on the Civil Rights Movement

Americas involvement in the Vietnam war became very controversial among citizens of the time because of the events of 1963. The Vietnam War was a “brutal conflict” between the communist North and democratic South Vietnam. The United States aided the South in their war efforts, “fearing the spread of communism.” Just eighteen years after the conflict started, the south fell to the communist north and “is considered to be a major defeat of the United States” (Diggs 2018, 2). The Vietnam War was so controversial because it was “the first time Americans watched war unfold on their television sets” (3). Americans were seeing the brutality that comes with war because news stations around the nation were on the ground of Vietnam, broadcasting it all over the nation. Also, the constant lies the government pumped to the American people lead to an “erosion of the public’s trust in the U.S. government and military” (4). This all became realized after one of the worst attacks the U.S. military has ever experienced, the Tet Offensive. In South Vietnam on January 30, 1968 “the North Vietnamese launched a massive coordinated surprise attack.” Americans watched “in glorious colour” as their fellow Americans were attacked and killed (Tucker-Jones 2014, 8). This surprised the American people because “publicly, America was claiming that it was winning the war…but behind the scenes the CIA and the US Military…were at loggerheads over the size of communist forces” (35).

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The media also influenced the publics distrust in the information the government was sharing. “The reporters did not believe the official statements that came out of the Military Assistance Command, and the media coverage generally reflected this.” This would “adversely affect support of the war at home” (Willbanks 2007, 110). After the Tet-Offensive, many young Americans demonstrated their hatred for war and the draft. On April 3, 1968, “some 1,000 men returned their draft cards to government offices” in retaliation of the Vietnam War and the draft of young American men. Over a month later, a protest demonstration in Catonsville, Maryland occurred. “Nine antiwar activists enter a Selective Service Office” and “removed nearly 400 files and burned them in the parking lot with homemade napalm” (Twombly 2018). One of the largest anti-war protests occurred at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. The movement was in an “effort to find an antiwar Democrat to run against Johnson in the primaries” and that call was answered by two men named Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy (Abramsky 2018, 13). The chaos of thousands of college kids turned violent when they started “throwing things at the police” and the police answer by releasing tear gas on the crowd (15). This became the story across the nation as similar stunts were being pulled on school campuses.

Many people believe that “Tet marked ‘The Turning Point” of the war because “before Tet, the American public was behind the war; after Tet, it was not.” After Tet, sitting president Lyndon Baines Johnson did not rerun because his reputation had been ruined along with other government officials (Blood 2005, 8). Not only do people considered the Tet Offensive the turning point of the Vietnam War because it led to Americas defeat, but the protest that happened after are considered the turning point in American history. For the first time, the American people felt as if they could not trust what they were being told by the government. Also, instead of supporting the war, they despised it and many people protested Americas involvement. The American people used their right to protest and freedom of speech to express their opinions to the presidential candidates and the government. It became obvious that America had to change the way they conducted military defenses. President Bush was quoted saying, “New threats require new thinking” when comparing the Tet Offensive to the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 (130). The Tet Offensive caused 1968 to be the turning point of the war, the turning point for the American people, and the turning point for the way America conducts military strategies.

The Vietnam War and Public Distrust: The Tet Offensive as a Catalyst

Not only did the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War are the reason that 1968 is considered the turning point in American history, but also the technological advancements made that year. On January 20, 1968, “the first NCAA basketball game to be nationally televised in prime time” was played and aired all over the nation. This was a big deal in sports and paved the way for all sports games to be played all over the nation. On March 13, the company now known as Exxon Mobile “the largest oil and natural gas” field that has ever been known in Americas history. On September 24, “60 minutes debuts” and “is now the longest continuously running prime-time program in history” (Twombly 2018). These minor technological advancements were nothing compared to the two major advancements, the invention of the 747 Jumbo Jet and the Apollo 8 mission. The invention of the 747 Jumbo Jet changed the way Americans traveled because “it opened up global air travel for the common man at prices undreamt of in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when” before it was just for “the rich and famous.” It was affordable and had the “capacity that no other plane maker could really challenge or meet” (Bowman 2014, 23).

On September 30, 1968, the first 747 Jumbo Jet was “completed and rolled from factory” (9). The 747 set a new standard for commercial passenger aircrafts and would forever change the way Americans traveled. The next major advancement would occur on December 21 with the launch of Nasa’s Apollo 8 launch. “NASA’s three astronauts became the first humans to see the moon’s far side.” NASA’s Apollo 8 mission completed 10 lunar revolutions over the course of six days. On Christmas Eve, “six telecasts were conducted” and transmitted “worldwide and in real time.” The telecasts “were of excellent quality” and “voice communications also were exceptionally good” (Dunbar 2009). The Apollo 8 capsule safely landed in the Pacific Ocean and all the crew was recovered. The Apollo 8 mission would forever change the world. Americans and people all over the world got their first real-time look into space. The Apollo 8 mission would pave the path for the following year when the United States won the first manned moon mission race. The many inventions and technological advancements in 1968 would forever change technology in America and contribute to why 1968 was the turning point in American History.

Conclusion: Why 1968 Remains a Defining Year in American History

1968 was the most eventful year in American History and is considered the turning point in American History. MLK’s death and the civil rights movement would lead to the desegregation of schools and more equality. The Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive led Americans to distrust the government, gave them a reason to use their freedom of speech and protest, and led to the change in Americas military strategy. And lastly, the technological advancements made that year, including the invention of the 747 Jumbo Jet and the Apollo 8 mission, set a new standard for travel and paved the path for new technologies. All the above reasons are why the year 1968 is considered the turning point in American history.


  1. 2016. Civil Rights Act of 1964. March 22.
  2. 2018. 1968: A Year of Turmoil and Change. June 6.
  3. Abramsky, Sasha. 2018. 'The Siege of Chicago: 'The Whole World is Watching!'.' Nation, August 27: 13-15.
  4. Asselin, Kristine Carlson. 2014. Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader. Minneapolis: ABDO Publishing Company.
  5. Blood, Jake. 2005. The Tet Effect: Intelligence and the public Preception of the War. New York: Routledge.
  6. Bowman, Martin W. 2014. Boeing 747: A History Deleviring the Dream. Great Britian: Pen & Sword Aviation.
  7. Diggs, Barbara. 2018. The Vietnam War. White River Junction: Nomad Press.
  8. Dunbar, Brian. 2009. NASA: Apollo 8. July 8. apollo8.html.
  9. Tucker-Jones, Anthony. 2014. The Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive 1968. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military.
  10. Twombly, Matthew and McDonald, Kendrick. 2018. A Timeline of 1968: The Year That Shattered America. January.
  11. Walker, Ida. 2008. The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company.
  12. Willbanks, James H. 2007. The Tet Offensive: A Concise History. Chichester: Colombia University Press.
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