40 Years Ago
(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)
On August 5, the Republican National Convention opened its sessions at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Norman Mailer on attending that event in Miami Beach in August:
The vegetal memories of that excised jungle haunted Miami Beach in a steam-pot of miasmas. Ghosts of expunged flora, the never-born groaning in vegetative chancery beneath the asphalt came up with a tropical curse, an equatorial leaden wet sweat of air which rose from the earth itself, rose right up through the baked asphalt and into the heated air which entered the lungs like a hand slipping into a rubber glove....Of course it could have been the air conditioning: natural climate transmogrified by technological climate. They say that in Miami Beach the air conditioning is pushed to that icy point where women may wear fur coats over their diamonds in the tropics.(It's no wonder for years after 1968 I considered Miami a place I would never go.)
Nixon entered the convention as front-runner but the Rockefeller forces still had a bit of hope. Ronald Reagan, bolstered by his California primary votes, announced his candidacy.
Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the former Democrat who had turned republican in 1964, supported Nixon over Reagan or the independent George Wallace and pushed for Nixon to choose a conservative VP candidate like Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew over a more liberal candidate like Fla Gov. Claude Kirk or Illinois Sen. Charles Percy. It was the beginning of Nixon's 'Southern Strategy' which would turn politics on its face as formerly Democratic southern states moved en masse to the Republican party.
On the first ballot, Nixon got 672 votes over Rockefeller's 277 and Reagan's 182.
From Nixon's acceptance speech, the night of August 8:
As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame.(Photos of the Florida delegation led by Gov. Claude Kirk, and Nixon supporters' signs, from Florida Memory. )
We hear sirens in the night.
We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad.
We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home.
And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish.
Did we come all this way for this?
Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?
Listen to the answer to those questions.
It is another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting.
It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans -- the non-shouters; the non-demonstrators.
On the night of August 7, as Nixon was being nominated, across the bay in Miami's predominately black Liberty City area a 'Vote Power" rally had been scheduled but never happened. Youths gathered in the streets and threw rocks at some passing cars during the afternoon. Later in the evening, a white man with a George Wallace for President bumper sticker drove into the crowd. Angry participants pulled the man out of his car, beat him, then overturned it and set it afire. Police moved in, setting off tear gas.
Gov. Kirk and SCLC leader Ralph Abernathy left the convention to walk the streets with Metro Mayor Hall, as things calmed.
But violence continued the next day, with police reacting to possible sniper fire with a barrage of bullets, resulting in two men dead and a young boy injured. National guard troops were called in. Another man had died from a stray bullet the night before. The violence abated after 150 arrests and a couple nights of curfew and rain. It was Miami's first riot.
He (the reporter) had no idea at all if God was in the land or the Devil played the tune. And if Miami had masked the answers, then in what state of mind could one now proceed to Chicago?
(updated:) In a curious twist of fate, it would be on the six year anniversary of Nixon's acceptance speech in Miami Beach that he would resign his presidency, on August 8, 1974. That night I would watch the Washington Post's "Nixon Resigns" front page being laid out. 34 years ago today.)
Sources: Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Norman Mailer; Miami Herald archives.