Skip to content

Making A Mockery Of The Court: The Chicago Seven, CHM, And Public History

September 19, 2007

Almost 38 years ago, the post-World War II generation gap—manifest in youth counterculture—came to a head in the 1960s with the Chicago Seven trial. This event is being remembered in an upcoming exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, and a yesterday’s Chicago Tribune reported on the event. The Museum’s instigation to tell us the story of the Chicago Seven was the acquisition of Franklin McMahon’s sketches of the trial. Below is a sketch that headlined the piece.

For all of us who are too young to remember the trial, the Tribune briefly recapped this main event of the 1960s. Of course the piece tells us something about public history and Franklin McMahon as well. Here are some excerpts from the article written by Azem Ahmed:

– “A defendant is shown sporting judicial robes and reading in court. Another drawing, shaded in murky brown, depicts a celebrity poet testifying in Sanskrit. A third captures an indignant defendant describing how he was bound and gagged in the courtroom for calling the judge a ‘fascist’ and a ‘dog.’ “
– “These images are among 483 courtroom sketches from the 1969-70 Chicago Seven conspiracy trial recently acquired by the Chicago History Museum. The pictures, the work of famed news artist Franklin McMahon, tell the story of one of the more bizarre spectacles in U.S. courtroom history, a trial that reflected the divergence of the youth counterculture of the 1960s from the previous generation.”
– ” ‘The historical significance is that it’s one of the first places in a formal setting that you see just how different young people’s views were from the generation that they saw themselves up against,’ said Joy Bivins, a curator at the museum [picture, right]. ‘That these really critical issues of the Vietnam War, youth counterculture and civil rights all come together in one place is unique.’ “…
– “His Chicago Seven sketches, drawn in shades of black, brown and deep auburn, provide snapshots of a supremely colorful trial in which the defendants wore jeans, ate, editorialized out loud and slept during the court proceedings. ‘The judge was uptight, and these guys were running revolution by show business,’ McMahon said. ‘They were out there to make a scene, and they did.’ “
– “The trial began Sept. 24, 1969, 13 months after violence broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, shocking the nation. Protesters collected in Grant Park were clubbed and gassed; one observer described the police force as hitting the crowd like ‘sheets of rain.’ “
– “The government charged eight men with conspiring to incite a riot. The number originally included Bobby Seale, leader of the Black Panthers, who was bound and gagged in court because of insults he hurled at Judge Julius Hoffman. Seale eventually was severed from the case and sentenced to 4 years in prison for contempt of court.” [Note: This is not a McMahon picture—as far as I can tell. – TL]
– “That left seven defendants: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, John Froines and Lee Weiner. Their trial became a microcosm of the tensions playing out throughout the nation during the 1960s.” …
– “The work of McMahon, a longtime freelancer, has appeared in the Tribune, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fortune, Life and Sports Illustrated, among other publications. In addition to covering the trial of the men accused of killing Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, McMahon drew pictures in Mission Control for the first landing on the moon.” …
– “McMahon’s drawings from the trial were published across the nation in 1969 and 1970, including in an entire issue of Tribune Magazine. The pictures vary in size from a small, vibrant portrait of Judge Hoffman to a panoramic image of poet Allen Ginsberg testifying in Sanskrit and uttering meditative ‘ohms.’ Other celebrities sketched include Arlo Guthrie, who recited lyrics from ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ on the stand; writer Norman Mailer; and folk musician Pete Seeger.” [Note that this drawing of Hoffman is ~not~ McMahon’s. – TL] …
– ” ‘This courtroom kind of became a theater for acting out all of those important issues of the day,’ said curator Bivins. ‘One of the reasons these illustrations are really important is because you can read page after page, but you are rarely going to get a chance to visualize all the actors involved in this kind of courtroom drama.’ “
– “Five months after the trial began in the oak-paneled, 23rd-floor courtroom of the Dirsken Federal Building, the defendants were acquitted of conspiracy. Five were convicted of intending to incite a riot across state lines and sentenced to 5 years in prison. All seven, plus the two defense attorneys, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for more than 100 contempt-of-court citations. But in 1972 an appeals court reversed all of the convictions, citing, among other things, antagonistic behavior from the judge and the fact that the FBI had bugged the defense lawyers’ offices.”


Of course these pictures are delicious. The exhibit will surely delight. I congratulate CHM on this valuable acquisition, and wish Ms. Bivins joy in her work to compile this story. – TL


PS – Nobody told me about the spelling error in the post’s title when I originally put this up—Yikes! Ooops. It’s fixed now, but wow am I an idiot. – TL


From → Uncategorized

  1. What a fascinating article, and what a great website! Thank you. Amy


  2. Tom permalink

    Very interesting. FYI, the color drawing of Bobby Seale is by Verna Sadock, another courtroom artist who covered the Chicago 7 trial.


  3. Dear Tom,

    Thanks. I couldn't exactly read the byline on the Seale picture.

    – TL


  4. We have the Bobby Seale drawing. Wondering how to sell it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: