events of May 1968 | Background, Significance, & Facts (2022)

Charles de Gaulle

(Video) "All Power to the Imagination": Paris, May 1968: The Student Revolt

See all media

Date:
May 1968
Location:
France
Key People:
Charles de Gaulle

See all related content →

(Video) The French Revolution of May 1968

events of May 1968, student revolt that began in a suburb of Paris and was soon joined by a general strike eventually involving some 10 million workers. During much of May 1968, Paris was engulfed in the worst rioting since the Popular Front era of the 1930s, and the rest of France was at a standstill. So serious was the revolt that in late May the French president, Charles de Gaulle, met secretly in Baden-Baden, West Germany, with General Jacques Massu, commander of the French occupation forces, to ensure Massu’s support in the event that his troops were needed to retake Paris from the revolutionaries.

Background

In the decade preceding May 1968, the French student population had nearly trebled, from about 175,000 to more than 500,000. It was an era of international “youth culture,” yet French society remained autocratic, hierarchical, and tradition-bound, especially in the eyes of French youth. As the May revolt erupted, de Gaulle was on the verge of celebrating his 10th year in office. He had acceded to power in 1958 via extra-constitutional means, because of the Fourth Republic’s disintegration at the height of the Algerian War (1954–62). French youth generally assumed that they were living under a quasi-benign political dictatorship. The two main opposition parties, the Radicals and the Socialists, had essentially collapsed, which meant that progressive political change via conventional parliamentary channels was all but ruled out. It was, moreover, an era of impassioned “Third Worldism.” For that generation of students, neither the French Communist Party nor orthodox Marxism held many attractions. Instead, its idols were Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong. Images of carpet bombing, napalm attacks, and massacres of civilians by U.S. forces in Vietnam —a former French sphere of influence—dominated the nightly news. For all of the foregoing reasons, French universities were a powder keg.

Confrontation and revolt

In retrospect, the event that precipitated the May revolt seems fairly innocuous. In 1967, students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris had staged protests against restrictions on dormitory visits that prevented male and female students from sleeping with each other. In January 1968, at a ceremony dedicating a new swimming pool at the campus, the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit verbally attacked François Missoffe, France’s Minister of Youth and Sports, complaining that Missoffe had failed to address the students’ sexual frustrations. Missoffe then suggested that Cohn-Bendit cool his ardour by jumping into the pool, whereupon Cohn-Bendit replied that Missoffe’s remark was just what one would expect from a fascist regime. The exchange earned Cohn-Bendit a reputation as an antiauthoritarian provocateur, and he soon acquired an almost cultlike following among French youth.

In March an attack on the American Express office in central Paris resulted in the arrest of several students. At a protest at the Nanterre campus a few days later in support of the students, more students were arrested, including Cohn-Bendit himself, who, it was rumoured, was threatened with deportation (he was eventually expelled in late May). The March 22 Movement, which lobbied for the arrested students’ release, emerged in response.

In early May, fearing an escalation of the protests, the dean of Nanterre shut down the campus—in retrospect, a fateful decision. Since the students were barred from protesting at Nanterre, they decided to take their grievances to the Sorbonne, in the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter. On May 3 the rector of the Sorbonne formally requested that the police clear the university’s courtyard, where some 300 students had assembled. The mass arrests that followed—undertaken with help from the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Securité), the national riot police—sparked violent resistance from bystanders, who began pelting the police with cobblestones removed from the streets and erecting barricades. The police responded with tear gas, clubbings, and more arrests. The rector of the Sorbonne closed the university, which further incited the students. The student leaders then proposed a major march and rally for May 10 to demand the reopening of the Sorbonne, the release of students who were still being held by the police, and an end to the intimidating police presence in the Latin Quarter.

The Night of the Barricades—May 10–11, 1968—remains a fabled date in postwar French history. By then the number of student protesters in the city had reached nearly 40,000. After police blocked the marchers’ path toward the Right Bank and the national broadcasting authority ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française), the students again began removing cobblestones and erecting barricades for protection—a scene that remains one of the May movement’s enduring images. At about 2:00 in the morning of May 11, the police attacked, firing tear gas and beating students and bystanders with truncheons. The bloody confrontation continued until dawn. By the time the dust had cleared, nearly 500 students had been arrested and hundreds of others had been hospitalized, including more than 250 police officers. The Latin Quarter lay in ruins, and public sympathy for the students, already considerable, increased.

Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Subscribe Now

(Video) The Market Revolution: Crash Course US History #12

It was at this point that what had begun as a university-based protest movement for educational reform came to engulf the whole of France. The students’ own aspirations grew apace as the success of their movement seemed to open up new possibilities for radical change, including the dismantling of authoritarian political structures and the democratization of social and cultural institutions ranging from education to the news media and beyond. The next several days witnessed the largest wildcat general strike in French history, as millions of workers poured into the streets in support of the students as well as to set forth their own demands. During the course of the strike, scores of factories—including those of the French automaker Renault—were seized by workers.

events of May 1968 | Background, Significance, & Facts (2) New from Britannica

events of May 1968 | Background, Significance, & Facts (3)

Being startled out of sleep by an alarm clock causes a spike in noradrenaline levels, making dreams harder to remember.

See All Good Facts

(Video) The 1960s in America: Crash Course US History #40

The French state was badly shaken, yet it managed to weather the crisis. After his timorous flight to Baden-Baden, de Gaulle returned to Paris to deliver a dramatic May 30 radio address in which he raised the spectre of a communist takeover. In reality, however, the French Communist Party had long ago abandoned the dream of a revolutionary seizure of power, accepting instead a limited role in the French political order. Indeed, the communists initially opposed—and even derided—the student protesters. Three days before de Gaulle’s address, the communists negotiated the Grenelle Accords, under whose terms workers would receive substantial wage increases and better working conditions. The workers angrily rejected the agreements, however, and the strikes continued. In one of his trademark political masterstrokes, de Gaulle also used his address to announce that he would dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections for June 23, assuming correctly that the French people were ready for a return to stability. He also implicitly threatened to use the army to impose order if the forces of “intimidation” and “tyranny” did not back down. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country marched in counterdemonstrations in support of de Gaulle. Although strikes and student demonstrations continued into June, the student movement gradually lost momentum, and de Gaulle’s party won a resounding victory. Ten months later, however, a similar gambit by de Gaulle—a national referendum on regional reorganization and reform of the Senate—failed, and the general’s political career came to an abrupt and ignominious end.

(Video) What you might not know about the Declaration of Independence - Kenneth C. Davis

FAQs

What historical event happened in May 1968? ›

events of May 1968, student revolt that began in a suburb of Paris and was soon joined by a general strike eventually involving some 10 million workers. During much of May 1968, Paris was engulfed in the worst rioting since the Popular Front era of the 1930s, and the rest of France was at a standstill.

Which of the following were causes for the protests that erupted in May 1968? ›

Multiple factors created the protests in 1968. Many were in response to perceived injustice by governments—in the USA, against the Johnson administration—and were in opposition to the draft, and the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

On what date of May 1968 did second Tuesday fall? ›

May 28, 1968 (Tuesday)

A Garuda Indonesia Airlines Convair 990 Coronado jet crashed shortly after taking off from Mumbai on a flight to Karachi, killing all 29 people on board. Debris from the plane fell onto the village of Bilalpada, killing one person on the ground.

What was the main protest by the people in Paris? ›

Protests against Emmanuel Macron
Date7 May 2017 – Present
LocationFrance
Caused byGlobalisation Neoliberalism Corruption French labour law reform High fuel taxes Police brutality Emmanuel Macron's economic positions Authoritarianism Political repression
MethodsDemonstrations, riots, vandalism, arson, assault
2 more rows

Why was 1968 a turning point? ›

The year 1968 is also described as the turning point in Americas history because of the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests, and the technological advancements made throughout this eventful year that would forever change America.

What was happening in 1968 in the US? ›

Martin Luther King Jr. is shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In response, riots erupt in major American cities, lasting for several days afterward. Apollo Program: Apollo 6 is launched, the second and last unmanned test flight of the Saturn V launch vehicle.

What was happening in 1968? ›

Other events that made history that year include the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race. The National Archives holds records documenting the turbulent time during 1968.

What were the 1968 riots about? ›

King's assassination in 1968, the issues of civil rights, employment discrimination, poverty, racial profiling and police brutality lay at the center of both riots.

How many riots were in 1968? ›

President Lyndon B. Johnson called in the National Guard to the city on April 5, 1968, to assist the police department in quelling the unrest. Ultimately, 13 people were killed, with approximately 1,000 people injured and over 6,100 arrested.
...
1968 Washington, D.C., riots.
1968 Washington, D.C. riots
Injuries1,098
Arrested6,100+
10 more rows

Was there a leap year in 1968? ›

There are no Leap Year events during 1968.

What day was Memorial Day on in 1968? ›

Johnson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Memorial Day, Thursday, May 30, 1968, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at eleven o'clock in the morning of that day as a time to unite in such prayer.

How many days were there in 1968? ›

The year 1968 has 366 days.

What ended the French Revolution? ›

How many people died from the French Revolution? ›

The estimated total number of casualties from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is 2.5 million combatants' casualties with another one million civilian casualties, which in relation to the population was similar to the First World War.

Why did the French Revolution fail? ›

The French Revolution was a failure because after all of the blood shed, the laws, civil rights, and codes did not get instituted effectively and did not represent the values that the citizens fought for, examples of this were the Napoleonic Code, Declaration of Rights of Man.

What war started in 1968? ›

On January 30, 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnamese and United States targets. The Tet Offensive became a major turning point in the Vietnam War.

How did May 1968 Change France? ›

Beginning in May 1968, a period of civil unrest occurred throughout France, lasting some seven weeks and punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, as well as the occupation of universities and factories. At the height of events, which have since become known as May 68, the economy of France came to a halt.

Who won the 1968 election? ›

In the presidential election, Republican former Vice President Richard Nixon defeated Democratic incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon won the popular vote by less than one point, but took most states outside the Northeast, and comfortably won the electoral vote.

What inventions were made in 1968? ›

Top 5 Scientific Achievements from 1968
  1. The birth of Intel.
  2. The discovery of pulsars. ...
  3. Georges Charpak develops the multiwire proportional chamber for particle detection. ...
  4. Apollo 8 is the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. ...
  5. Patent for the jacuzzi whirlpool hot tub granted. ...
24 Jul 2018

Why was 1968 described as the year that shattered America? ›

Movements that had been building along the primary fault lines of the 1960s—the Vietnam War, the Cold War, civil rights, human rights, youth culture—exploded with force in 1968. The aftershocks registered both in America and abroad for decades afterward.

What happened in 1968 during the Vietnam War? ›

In late January, 1968, during the lunar new year (or “Tet”) holiday, North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong forces launched a coordinated attack against a number of targets in South Vietnam. The U.S. and South Vietnamese militaries sustained heavy losses before finally repelling the communist assault.

What type of year was 1968? ›

Earth Monkey

How many states were in 1968? ›

As of 2022, this is the last time that all 50 states and the District of Columbia would vote under a winner-take-all system.

What did the 1968 Civil Rights Act do? ›

The 1968 Act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) handicap and family status.

Where did the 1968 riots take place? ›

on April 4, 1968. Many believe them to be the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War. Some of the biggest riots took place in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, and Kansas City.

What was happening in June 1968? ›

This Day in History - June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel by 24-year old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. He was shot in the head and died early the next morning.

How did people react to Martin Luther King's death? ›

Shock and distress over the news of King's death sparked rioting in more than 100 cities around the country, including burning and looting. Amid a wave of national mourning, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Americans to “reject the blind violence” that had killed King, whom he called the “apostle of nonviolence.”

Who was all assassinated in 1968? ›

In 1968, political assassinations also shocked the nation. First, Martin Luther King, then Robert F. Kennedy, were gunned down. "These two assassinations are, in many, ways the fulcrum of the year," Wright says.

What was the biggest riot in history? ›

  • 1967 Detroit Riots. The 1967 Detroit Riots were among the most violent and destructive riots in U.S. history. ...
  • 6 Violent Uprisings in the United States.

Who was assassinated in 1968? ›

Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. CST. He was rushed to St.

When was the last leap year? ›

The last leap year was 2020. Leap years only occur on years that are divisible by four so that they can be evenly divided by 400. Recent leap years have included: 2020, 2016, 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992. The upcoming leap years will be: 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, 2044.

Will 2100 be a leap year? ›

The rule is that if the year is divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400, leap year is skipped. The year 2000 was a leap year, for example, but the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not. The next time a leap year will be skipped is the year 2100.

Which years are leap years? ›

To be a leap year, the year number must be divisible by four – except for end-of-century years, which must be divisible by 400. This means that the year 2000 was a leap year, although 1900 was not. 2020, 2024 and 2028 are all leap years.

When was Easter Sunday in 1968? ›

Easter 1968 is April 14.

Why is Memorial Day in May? ›

John Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans' organization for Union Civil War soldiers, issued a general order setting aside May 30 for the purpose of “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

How many years ago was 1968 today? ›

1968: 50 years ago | Smithsonian Institution.

What happened in the UK in 1968? ›

1–2 July – July 1968 England and Wales dust fall storms. 4 July – Alec Rose returns to Southsea from a 354-day single-handed round-the-world trip for which he receives a knighthood the following day. 10 July – Floods in South West England. 17 July – The Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine debuts in London.

What is the date of last Monday in the month of July of 1968? ›

July 29, 1968 (Monday)

What was happening in 1968? ›

Other events that made history that year include the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race. The National Archives holds records documenting the turbulent time during 1968.

What was 1968 like? ›

The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much-hated war and a spirit of rebellion that swept through countries all over the world.

What was happening in June 1968? ›

This Day in History - June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel by 24-year old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. He was shot in the head and died early the next morning.

What were people protesting for in the United States in 1968? ›

Young Americans took to the streets to protest President Lyndon Johnson's decision to escalate the Vietnam war. African Americans had marched to end the southern system of Jim Crow. Women fought against gender stereotypes that confined them to the role of housewives.

What war started in 1968? ›

On January 30, 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnamese and United States targets. The Tet Offensive became a major turning point in the Vietnam War.

What inventions were made in 1968? ›

Top 5 Scientific Achievements from 1968
  1. The birth of Intel.
  2. The discovery of pulsars. ...
  3. Georges Charpak develops the multiwire proportional chamber for particle detection. ...
  4. Apollo 8 is the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. ...
  5. Patent for the jacuzzi whirlpool hot tub granted. ...
24 Jul 2018

How many states were in 1968? ›

As of 2022, this is the last time that all 50 states and the District of Columbia would vote under a winner-take-all system.

How did May 1968 Change France? ›

Beginning in May 1968, a period of civil unrest occurred throughout France, lasting some seven weeks and punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, as well as the occupation of universities and factories. At the height of events, which have since become known as May 68, the economy of France came to a halt.

Who was assassinated in 1968? ›

Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. CST. He was rushed to St.

How many years ago was 1968 today? ›

1968: 50 years ago | Smithsonian Institution.

Why was 1968 described as the year that shattered America? ›

Movements that had been building along the primary fault lines of the 1960s—the Vietnam War, the Cold War, civil rights, human rights, youth culture—exploded with force in 1968. The aftershocks registered both in America and abroad for decades afterward.

When was the first day of summer in 1968? ›

June 24, 1968 (Monday)

What was happening in July 1968? ›

By July 4, 1968, America was exposed to the brutal reality of Vietnam's Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; riots broke out across the country. Young Americans snubbed tradition and authority.

Why did students walk out in 1968? ›

blowouts, social protest in March 1968 in which thousands of Mexican American high-school students walked out of classes in Los Angeles, protesting inequality in the public education system. The walkouts contributed to the wider Chicano movement seeking civil rights reform for Latinos.

How did the riots of 1968 end? ›

For seven days, beginning on April 5th, Pittsburgh residents rioted for reasons such as segregation in public schools, lack of job opportunities, and pay inequality. Most of the unrest was brought to an end by the National Guard and the city was restored to order by April 12th.

What major event occurred in Vietnam in 1968? ›

In late January, 1968, during the lunar new year (or “Tet”) holiday, North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong forces launched a coordinated attack against a number of targets in South Vietnam.

Videos

1. 4 Years of the Trump Presidency in 6 Minutes | NYT Politics
(The New York Times)
2. Mexico History in 5 Minutes - Animated Timeline and Facts
(Past To Future)
3. What really happened during the Salem Witch Trials - Brian A. Pavlac
(TED-Ed)
4. Overview: Revelation 1-11
(BibleProject)
5. The Great Depression - 5 Minute History Lesson
(The Plain Bagel)
6. Civil Rights and the 1950s: Crash Course US History #39
(CrashCourse)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated: 12/05/2022

Views: 5959

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.