What happened in 1968? That's a big question, as 1968 was a very eventful year filled with change, turmoil, tragedy, and accomplishment. Discover some of the major 1968 events that took place around the world during this unforgettable year. Review facts about key events to get an overview of this historic year.
What Happened in 1968? Historic Events Around the World
January 30: Tet Offensive in Vietnam
On January 30, 1968, North Vietnamese communist forces launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and the U.S. troops stationed there. Striking on the lunar holiday of Tet, North Vietnamese forces were able to inflict significant damage and casualties in South Vietnam, contradicting messages from the U.S. government to the American people of a weakening communist presence. While the North Vietnamese forces were repelled, the Tet Offensive significantly weakened public support in the U.S. for continued involvement in Vietnam and forced the U.S. to re-evaluate its position regarding continued involvement in Vietnam.
March 8: Student Revolt Against Communism in Poland
On March 8, 1968, politically active student groups referred to as the Komandosi (Commandos) held a rally on the campus of Poland's Warsaw University to demonstrate against repression by the Communist regime, including its decision to ban a classic play from being performed in the country. Around 2,000 peaceful protestors gathered only to be violently brutalized by forces acting on behalf of the government. This triggered a three-week outbreak of riots and escalating riots across the country, which ultimately led to a platform demanding reform in the country.
May 3: French Student Rebellion at the Sorbonne
On May 3, 1968, a student rally at the Sorbonne in Paris turned violent when responding police forces brutally beat protestors and arrested several hundred of them. This led to more and more student protests, drawing additional brutality from law enforcement. The country's workforce joined in. By mid-May, many factory workers and other blue-collar workers walked off their jobs to support the students, bringing the economy to a halt. This led to President Charles De Gaulle dissolving parliament and calling for new elections then ultimately resigning the following year.
April 4: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the US
On April 4, 1968, the night after speaking at an event in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down at his hotel. He was standing on his balcony prior to going to dinner with the people he was traveling with when he was struck in the neck by a bullet, which is believed to have been fired by a sniper. He was rushed to a local hospital where it was declared that the civil rights leader had died. James Earl Ray confessed the following year and was convicted, though he later recanted his confession before dying in jail.
April 20: Anti-Immigration 'Rivers of Blood' Speech in the UK
On April 20, 1968, Enoch Powell, a conservative British Member of Parliament (MP), delivered an extraordinarily controversial anti-immigration speech. Delivered at a meeting of the U.K.'s Conservative Association, his words became known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech. He argued that immigrants would lead to natives of England becoming a "persecuted minority." He was immediately dismissed from his role with Britain's shadow cabinet for his inflammatory words and their potentially harmful impact on race relations.
June 5: Assassination of Bobby Kennedy in California
On June 5, 1968, Robert "Bobby" F. Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy, was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Former U.S. Attorney General (AG) Bobby Kennedy was a sitting member of the United States Senate and a presidential candidate at the time of his assassination. Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian who was a citizen of Jordan, was arrested and convicted of killing Kennedy. Kennedy's son, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has asserted that another man conspired with Sirhan and actually fired the fatal shot. He called for a new investigation in 2019.
July 1: Finland First to Sign Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
July 1, 1968, marked the first day that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for countries to sign, with Finland being the first to commit. On that day, 62 countries signed up. Other countries followed suit over time; as of 2021, there are more than 190 signatories, including the major superpowers. This multilateral treaty remains in effect today. Its focus is to prevent nuclear weapons (and associated technology) from spreading, to move toward nuclear disarmament and to encourage cooperation with regards to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
July 4: Vietnam War Protests Around the World
There were countless Vietnam War protests throughout the entire time the U.S. was involved in the war in Vietnam. On July 4 (Independence Day), 1968, there were numerous protests in the U.S. and abroad. Protestors gathered at official events in major American cities, including Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. In Melbourne, Australia, a few thousand protestors vandalized the U.S. consulate. Elsewhere, including Brisbane in Australia and Stockholm in Sweden, anti-war parades were held on this day. Thousands of people attended.
August 20: Soviet Union Invades Czechoslovakia
On August 20, 1968, with the goal of putting a stop to Czechoslovakia's growing reform efforts to transition the country from traditional communist policies, the Soviet Union invaded the country. During this surprise invasion that came to be known as Prague Spring, Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops took control of Prague and other cities. Many Czech citizens left the country following the invasion. Many immigrated to Canada. Others made their way to Australia. While the invasion slowed Czech reform, it set the stage for the ultimate splintering of communism in Eastern Europe.
September 18: Russian Spacecraft Goes to the Moon and Back
On September 18, the unmanned Russian spacecraft Zond-5 became the first to orbit the moon and also return to Earth successfully. Two tortoises traveled on the spacecraft, both of which survived the journey to the moon and back without suffering ill effects. The spacecraft departed Earth on September 14 and returned six days later, touching down in the Indian Ocean on September 20.
September 30: Boeing Jumbo Jet Changes International Travel
On September 20, 1968, Boeing introduced its 747, the world's first wide-body jet. As the largest passenger aircraft in the world, it changed air travel forever. It quickly became the standard for international air travel and is credited with starting "a revolution in air travel." These planes were also adapted for military purposes, including being put into use as Air Force One jets. These planes have had a significant impact on aircraft design, including the larger planes with which they now share the skies.
November 5: Richard Nixon Elected US President
On November 5, 1968, Richard M. Nixon was elected to serve as the 37th president of the United States of America. The Republican received 301 electoral votes, while his Democratic challenger, Hubert Humphrey, received only 191. He campaigned on a platform of law and order, committing to work toward ending the war in Vietnam. That process took much longer than expected; he was in his second term as president by the time the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam came to pass. He ultimately resigned in 1974 due to the Watergate cover-up.
December 24: NASA's Manned Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon
After lifting off on December 21, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first people to ever leave the orbit of low Earth. Just a few days later, on December 24 (Christmas Eve), Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. After witnessing firsthand what no human had ever seen before, the crew and craft returned safely to Earth on December 27. This mission marked a fitting and hopeful end to what was an extraordinarily difficult and turbulent year in the United States and around the world.
1968: An Eventful Year
This timeline touches on just a few of the many incredible events that took place around the world during 1968, some tragic and some inspiring. From U.S. athletes staging a silent Black Power salute at the Olympic Games in Mexico to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and beyond, this year truly changed the world. Now that you are aware of some of the significant events that took place during 1968, learn more about key historical events. Start by reviewing a timeline of the Civil Rights movement to gain perspective of historical events in the era leading up to the tumult of 1968.