The 1968 Democratic National Convention and the “Chicago Seven” Trial

Abbie Hoffman Wearing Judicial Robes in the Courtroom

Abbie Hoffman Reading During Courtroom Proceedings

Poet Allen Ginsberg Testifying in the Chicago Seven Trial

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the infamous 1969 to 1970 Chicago Seven Trial of political activists who were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines in order to individually incite riots at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The seven prominent radical activists, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, John Froines, and Abbie Hoffman, displayed outrageous and distracting behavior all through the trial. All but Froines and Weiner were convicted, but none served any jail time, since they all were later acquitted. The 1968 Democratic National Convention attracted protesters against the Vietnam War, as well as other political and civil rights activists. They were confronted by Mayor Richard Daley’s brutal police force, as shown in the video below.

The Democratic National Convention, August 1968

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Pictures of the Day: The 1969-70 Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial

Abbie Hoffman Reading a Book During the Trial

Abbie Hoffman Wearing Judicial Robes at the Trial


Poet Allen Ginsberg Testifying at the Trial

Bobby Seale Bound and Gagged in Court

Mayor Daley Testifying at the Trial

Yippie founder Abbie Hoffman is shown sporting judicial robes and reading in court. Another drawing, shaded in murky brown, depicts a celebrity poet Allen Ginsberg testifying in Sanskrit. These images are among 483 courtroom sketches from the 1969-70 Chicago Seven conspiracy trial recently acquired by the Chicago History Museum.  The pictures, the work of famed news artist Franklin McMahon, tell the story of one of the more bizarre spectacles in U.S. courtroom history, a trial that reflected the divergence of the youth counterculture of the 1960s from previous generations.

According to a report by Azam Ahmed in The Chicago Tribune:

The historical significance is that it’s one of the first places in a formal setting that you see just how different young people’s views were from the generation that they saw themselves up against,” said Joy Bivins, a curator at the museum. “That these really critical issues of the Vietnam War, youth counterculture and civil rights all come together in one place is unique.

The drawings, once sorted, will be exhibited at the museum, where McMahon’s drawings from the Emmett Till trial already grace the walls.  His Chicago Seven sketches, drawn in shades of black, brown and deep auburn, provide snapshots of a supremely colorful trial in which the defendants wore jeans, ate, editorialized out loud and slept during the court proceedings.

The judge was uptight, and these guys were running revolution by show business,” McMahon said.  “They were out there to make a scene, and they did.”

The trial began Sept. 24, 1969, 13 months after violence broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, shocking the nation.  Protesters collected in Grant Park were clubbed and gassed; one observer described the police force as hitting the crowd like “sheets of rain.”

The government charged eight men with conspiring to incite a riot.   The number originally included Bobby Seale, leader of the Black Panthers, who was bound and gagged in court because of insults he hurled at Judge Julius Hoffman.   Seale eventually was severed from the case and sentenced to 4 years in prison for contempt of court.

That left seven defendants: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, John Froines and Lee Weiner.  Their trial became a microcosm of the tensions playing out throughout the nation during the 1960s.

McMahon, 86, who has drawn everything from the protests in Selma, Ala., to the Paris Opera, said the trial was among the most important of his subjects during that time.

I thought the acts of the defendants were atrocious, but I was on their side in the sense I was against the war and in the sense I was more of a Democrat than a Republican,” McMahon said.

The work of McMahon, a longtime freelancer, has appeared in the Tribune, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fortune, Life and Sports Illustrated, among other publications.  In addition to covering the trial of the men accused of killing Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, McMahon drew pictures in Mission Control for the first landing on the moon.”

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