How the Chicago Eight became Seven

October 3rd, 2011by Joy BivinsFiled under: Collections, Exhibitions


Watercolor of Bobby Seale speaking to Judge Hoffman, Franklin McMahon, 1969
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Maybe it’s not so unexpected that the Chicago History Museum holds visual documents of the Chicago Eight, one of the most debated political trials of the late twentieth century. After all, the events that led to the trial were directly related to one of the most controversial moments in Chicago’s recent history—the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And while the convention officially concluded at the end of August 1968, the drama continued well into the next year with the trial of eight diverse activists accused of conspiring to incite a riot, among other things. One of the Chicago Eight was Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

The trial, which began in late September 1969, proved atypical from the start, but the exchanges between Seale and the presiding judge, Julius Hoffman, were especially dramatic. Seale had questioned his inclusion in the indictment from the beginning, and during the trial, in the absence of his own attorney, he requested to represent himself. Judge Hoffman denied the requests and Seale met each denial with commentary, labeling the judge a “fascist” and a “pig.” On October 29, Judge Hoffman ordered court marshals to silence the defendant and Seale was bound and gagged. He remained that way for three days.

On November 5, Hoffman severed Seale’s case from the other defendants, found him guilty of sixteen counts of contempt, and sentenced him to four years in prison. The Chicago Eight became the Chicago Seven.


Composite image of the trial participants, Franklin McMahon, 1969
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Chicago artist Franklin McMahon documented the sometimes strange courtroom proceedings in more than seven hundred images, ranging from rough sketches to elaborate watercolors. His composite image includes all of the trial participants: the eight defendants (Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, Bobby Seale, David Dellinger, John Froines, and Lee Weiner), attorneys for the prosecution (Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz), defense attorneys (William Kuntsler and Leonard Wineglass), Judge Julius Hoffman, and the jury of two men and ten women. His watercolor of Seale and Hoffman (shown at top) depicts Seale explaining how it felt to be silenced in Hoffman’s courtroom.

> Visit the Chicago Conspiracy Trial to see more of McMahon’s sketches

> Learn more about the Black Panther Party

> Read about political conventions held in Chicago

> Learn more about Unexpected Chicago

> Support the Museum’s collection

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