This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.
In late summer 1968, delegates gathered in Chicago for the 35th Democratic National Convention. It had been a year of war, assassinations, and riots. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive in January. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in April, sparking riots in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago. Andy Warhol was shot and Robert Kennedy was killed in June. Mayor Richard J. Daley was determined to show a strong force against the protesters flowing into Chicago. In addition to more than 10,000 policemen, he enlisted the aid of some 15,000 Army troops and National Guardsmen. This force clashed with protesters on the streets and in parks outside the convention, sparking five days of violence that overshadowed the contentious convention.
During these five days and nights, police and soldiers used tear gas, mace, and batons on protesters who threw rocks and rubble at the police. Hundreds were injured on both sides. Journalists trying to cover the action often became part of it, being clubbed by police and having cameras broken. The U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence referred to the event as a “police riot.” A federal grand jury was empaneled in September to consider charges. In March of 1969, after the Democrats lost the election and Richard Nixon was sworn in as president, eight of the protesters were indicted for criminal conspiracy.
Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale were the first to be indicted under a rider that had been attached to the recently passed Civil Rights Act of 1968 making it a felony to “travel in interstate commerce…with the intent to incite, promote, encourage, participate in and carry on a riot.” Together they became known as the Chicago Eight or the Conspiracy Eight, soon to become the Chicago Seven after Bobby Seale’s case was split from the others when he was held in contempt by the presiding judge. Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie), after denying Seale’s right to counsel and his right to represent himself, ordered Seale, a leader of the Black Panthers, to be bound, gagged, and chained to a chair in the court. Judge Hoffman then held Seale in contempt for struggling against his restraints and making muffled noises through his gag, sentencing him to 4 years for contempt of court.
While the Chicago Seven were still the Chicago Eight, a group of friends and fellow protesters formed the Committee to Defend the Conspiracy in order “to raise funds urgently needed for the legal defense of these eight men and to clarify the critical political and civil libertarian issues at stake.” As part of this fundraising, the Committee, whose members included Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Norman Mailer, and Kathleen Cleaver, produced a comic book, Conspiracy Capers.
Conspiracy Capers, is a compilation of several artists and authors, including Skip Williamson, Jim Osborne, Jay Lynch, and Daniel Clyne, containing works such as Afro Boy about a young black man who eats a “Bit o’ Honkey” [sic] candy bar and becomes a superhero who flies off to talk to “Big Dick” [i.e., Richard Nixon] and to “look up Les’ Maddox and George Wallace”; J. Ogre Hoover in We Better Lock Those Loonies Up about the creation of a police state; and Ronald Raisin and Elder Cleavage, a satirical response to then Governor of California Ronald Reagan saying ”If Eldridge Cleaver is allowed to teach our children, they may come home one night and slit our throats.”
Houghton’s copy of Conspiracy Capers is one of many underground comics that came to us through the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection. Other materials seen here concerning the trials of the Chicago Seven and Bobby Seale come from the Santo Domingo and the Black Panther Printed Ephemera collections.
[Thanks to Susan Wyssen, Manuscript Cataloger, for contributing this post.]