Updated:
Original:
Year
1969
Month Day
September 24

The Chicago Seven go on trial

The trial of the Chicago Seven begins before Judge Julius Hoffman. Initially there were eight defendants (and the group was known as the Chicago Eight), but one, Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, denounced Hoffman as a racist and demanded a separate trial. The seven other defendants, including David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE); Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden of MOBE and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); and Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman of the Youth International Party (Yippies), were accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

At the height of the antiwar and civil rights movements, these young leftists had organized protest marches and rock concerts at the Democratic National Convention. During the event, clashes broke out between the protesters and the police and eventually turned into full-scale rioting, complete with tear gas and police beatings. The press, already there to cover the Democratic convention, denounced the overreaction by police and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s handling of the situation.

The Chicago Seven were indicted for violating the Rap Brown law, which had been tagged onto the Civil Rights Bill earlier that year by conservative senators. The law made it illegal to cross state lines in order to riot or to conspire to use interstate commerce to incite rioting. President Johnson’s attorney general, Ramsey Clark, refused to prosecute the case.

Shortly after the trial began, Seale loudly protested by attempting to examine his own witnesses. Judge Hoffman took the unusual measure of having Seale bound and gagged at the defendant’s table before eventually separating his trial and sentencing him to 48 months in prison.

With encouragement from defense attorney William Kunstler, the seven other defendants did whatever they could to disrupt the trial through such acts as reading poetry and chanting Hare Krishna. While the jury was deliberating their verdict, Judge Hoffman held the defendants in contempt of court for their behavior and sentenced them to up to 29 months in jail. Kunstler received a four-year sentence, partly for calling Hoffman’s court a “medieval torture chamber.” Five of the Chicago Seven were convicted of lesser charges.

In 1970, the convictions and contempt charges against the Chicago Seven were overturned on appeal. Abbie Hoffman remained a well-known counterculture activist until his death in 1989. Tom Hayden went on to a career in politics (and marriage to actress Jane Fonda). He died in 2016.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Muhammad completes Hegira

On September 24, 622, the prophet Muhammad completes his Hegira, or “flight,” from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution. In Medina, Muhammad set about building the followers of his religion—Islam—into an organized community and Arabian power. The Hegira would later mark the ...read more

The first Supreme Court is established

The Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement. That day, President Washington nominated ...read more

Chicago 8 trial opens in Chicago

The trial for eight antiwar activists charged with the responsibility for the violent demonstrations at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago. The defendants included David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee (NMC); Rennie Davis and Thomas ...read more

Ben Johnson wins gold, temporarily

On September 24, 1988, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson runs the 100-meter dash in 9.79 seconds to win gold at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Johnson’s triumph, however, was temporary: He tested positive for steroids three days later and was stripped of the medal. Ben ...read more

The Mormon Church officially renounces polygamy

On September 24, 1890, faced with the eminent destruction of their church and way of life, Mormon leaders reluctantly issue the “Mormon Manifesto” in which they command all Latter-day Saints to uphold the anti-polygamy laws of the nation. The Mormon leaders had been given little ...read more

A game warden is reported missing

Neil LaFeve, the game warden at Sensiba Wildlife Area in Wisconsin, is reported missing. When LaFeve, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, did not show up to his own party, his wife called the police. The next morning, authorities found LaFeve’s truck. A pool of blood and two ...read more