"John Culhane and I took shelter in the gated front yard of Hermon Baptist, the oldest African-American church on the North Side," said Monroe Anderson, a Chicago journalist who covered the 1968 anti-war protests as an intern for Newsweek magazine. Here, he's pictured in front of Hermon Baptist in June 2020 | Photo by Darius Griffin/The TRiiBE

Just like what we’re experiencing right now, 1968 was a generational sea change in America. It was when the Civil Rights Movement was muscled out by Black Power. When there was a wave of sea-to-shining sea riots. It was a time when fearful mothers watched as their draft-age sons — whose fathers were not Fred Trump, wealthy enough to buy them a 4-F deferment — were shipped off to a foreign land, where they would risk life or limbs to fight in Vietnam’s civil war. And there were monumental anti-war protest marches on Washington, D.C., and throughout cities across the nation. Chicago was one of those cities.

For the past three weeks, settled in place, I’ve been captive to all five of my TV sets as I moved from one room to the next watching breaking news reports. Watching cellphone recordings of George Floyd begging now-arrested Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin to let him breathe. Watching coast to coast and international protests in reaction to the broad daylight murder of Floyd, in particular, and police violence against Black people, in general. Watching looting and burning. Reading President Trump’s tweet, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” reminded me of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s order to “shoot to kill” any arsonists and to “shoot to maim or cripple” any looters in the wake of the urban uprising on the West Side following Dr. King’s assassination.

Seeing TV reporters working their way through the crowd of protesters, snagging interviews while gagging from teargas and watching young Americans cuffed and arrested, the lights, the action and the cameras was a sight all too familiar to me. I couldn’t smell the teargas but I knew how much it burned the eyes. I wasn’t struck by the nightstick but I knew the pain. I sat safely in my Chicago home, sheltered in place, but I knew the apprehension. 

Monroe Anderson holding a photo of himself, donning a helmet, in 1968 while covering the anti-war protests | Photo by Darius Griffin/The TRiiBE

All that I saw took me back more than half a century to the time when I was not a distant viewer but an on-the-scene witness. Back then, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, just five days after President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced he would not seek reelection. Two months later, Sen. Robert Kennedy was gunned down in California while campaigning for the Democratic party nomination for president. That August of 1968, I was a summer intern for Newsweek magazine. I was one of the reporters covering the anti-war protests in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. As part of Newsweek’s riot coverage team, I was partnered with John Culhane, one of the magazine’s four Chicago bureau correspondents. The two of us had been dropped off on the corner of Clark and LaSalle to cover the demonstrators.

Days earlier, the anti-war protesters had vowed to “bring the war home.” Abbie Hoffman, one of the leaders of the Youth International Party, aka the Yippies, who revelled in freaking out the establishment, held a press conference announcing that he was going to dump LSD in Chicago’s water supply. 

Mayor Daley believed Hoffman and was not about to have all of the good citizens of Chicago tripping on acid so he ordered Police Superintendent James Conlisk to get his men suited up and ready to do battle. 

Five thousand peace activists were camped out in the area near the Lincoln Park Children’s Zoo. Just across Cannon Drive, Supt. Conlisk had 6,000 men in full riot gear. Shortly before midnight, a police bullhorn commanded the hippies and the yippies to disperse. Not long after that, I saw an object fly from the mob of protesters into the assembly of police.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Within minutes, Culhane and I saw swarms of people streaming south on the west side of Clark Street. They all looked panicked. Some had blood running down their faces. Culhane and I ran against the battered crowd to see just what was going on. We only got a few hundred feet before we saw what it was and it wasn’t pretty. The police were clubbing anyone and everyone who wasn’t wearing a blue uniform.  Hugh Hefner, whose Playboy Mansion was only a few blocks away, was swatted on his ass by police.

Culhane and I took shelter in the gated front yard of Hermon Baptist, the oldest African-American church on the North Side.

One of the policemen yelled, “walk to us.” Culhane and I were wearing blue riot helmets that Newsweek had commandeered from the Detroit police to protect us from the rioters. We were in suits and ties with Chicago Police Department (CPD)-issued press credentials hanging around our necks. Culhane shouted “press, press.”  Another policeman yelled, “Come out of there motherfuckers.”  

Before we cleared the yard, they began beating us with their night sticks. Although I had grown up in a blue collar neighborhood a block and a half from Gary’s Delaney projects in Indiana, this was the first — and only — time I’ve felt the sting of a billy club. They have a lead core and, believe me, they hurt. Our helmets absorbed the blows to our heads but our backs and thighs were not as fortunate. The police had formed a shoulder-to-shoulder gauntlet along the street and we found ourselves immediately in a crush of people who were being bludgeoned from one cop to the next all the way south to the LaSalle Drive.

Aug. 28, 1968: "This photograph was taken by a Chicago Tribune photographer on Michigan Avenue across the street from the Conrad Hilton Hotel. I wore a riot helmet Newsweek had managed to commandeer for its correspondents covering the protests" | Photo courtesy of Monroe Anderson
"This photo ran on Top of the Week in Newsweek magazine's Sept. 9, 1968 issue. Pictured are the four Newsweek correspondents and one photographer —-along with me — who were beaten and clubbed by Chicago police during DNC in Chicago" | Photo courtesy of Monroe Anderson

I’d always thought of myself as a humane, caring person but as I experienced one whack after the next, I quickly started twisting my body so that someone else’s was between me and the wildly swinging nightsticks. 

After having beat us back to the corner of Clark and LaSalle, the baton-happy cops were done with us. We immediately got on a pay phone to call Newsweek’s makeshift headquarters to report what we had experienced and endured. A Newsweek courier picked us up in a rental car and brought us back to headquarters. 

Assuming that we had somehow provoked the police, Culhane and I were taken off of street duty and forced to stay in the office and man the telephones Monday night. The CPD’s intentional beating of the press continued on the city’s streets and in the parks. By Tuesday night, Culhane and I were back out there, chasing cops who were chasing anti-war protesters, while being careful not to be on the blunt end of their night sticks. What had been a demonstration with 12,000 Chicago police and another 15,000 National Guardsmen and other lawmen turned into a pitched battle with anti-war protesters from Grant Park to Lincoln Park.

"Photo of protesters and Illinois National Guardsmen in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago" | Photo courtesy of Monroe Anderson

The police were clubbing, macing and tear gassing the protesters. They were also beating the press and sometimes ripping film out of photographers’ cameras and breaking TV lenses with their nightsticks.  

The protesters were anything but nonviolent. They threw bricks, bottles with urine in them and anything else they could get their hands on. 

When the four days and nights had ended, according to the Chicago study, Rights in Conflict, a total of 192 police officers were injured. One hundred and ten demonstrators went to the hospital, 668 people had been arrested, 425 demonstrators were treated at temporary medical facilities, 200 were treated on the spot and 400 were given first aid for tear gas exposure.

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While I have the distinction of being one of the first reporters beaten by the Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, I was hardly the only one. There have also been more than one reporter hurt in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Journalists covering those demonstrations have been tear gassed, hit by rubber bullets and ended up on the wrong end of a policeman’s nightstick. But beyond worrying about the police and the protesters, those covering today’s demonstrations have to worry about the COVID-19 virus. That makes their job much tougher than the 1968 demonstrations that the Rights in Conflict study called, “a police riot.” 

What we’re going through today are protests and riots because of the police acting as if Black lives don’t matter. Back 52 years ago, the anti-war protesters chanted, “the whole world is watching.” 

The Black Lives Matter protesters have been repeating that same chant. But this time, the whole world is joining in the protests.