Dear Congressman Abbitt

“Dear Congressman Abbitt”

Virginians and National Politics, 1948-1973

Browse Exhibits (2 total)



1968 was a turbulent year socially and politically in the United States. Assassinations, foreign crises, social protest movements, and major legislative changes rocked the foundations of society both federally and locally. This exhibit draws on the Papers of Congressman Watkins Moorman Abbitt to examine the responses of white Virginians to the events of that time.

  • January 17: LBJ’s State of the Union Address, which focused heavily on the Vietnam War
  • January 23: USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence vessel, was captured while surveilling the North Korean coast  

  • January 31: North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive and the US embassy in Saigon is invaded

  • March 16: Senator Robert Kennedy announced plan to enter the 1968 Presidential race

  • March 28: Martin Luther King Jr. joined the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis Tennessee, but quickly left the event due to violence and looting. He returned on April 3rd to lead a peaceful strike and it was then that he delivered his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

  • March 31: LBJ reported his decisions not to seek re-election

  • April 4: Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, sparking riots in many American cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

  • April 6: Seventeen-year-old Black Panther, Bobby Hutton, was killed in a shootout with the Oakland police department.

  • April 11: LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibited housing discrimination.

  • April 23: Columbia University students organize a rally and occupation of the Low administrative office and four other campus buildings for the institution’s involvement with the Institute for Defense Analysis. Seven days later, police forcibly removed the students by request of Columbia administration.

  • May 10: Formal peace talks between US and North Vietnamese delegations began.

  • May 11: Permits are granted to SCLC for an encampment on the Mall in Washington, D.C., which formed Resurrection City until June 24th when the site was raided by police and dismantled.

  • June 6: Robert Kennedy died after being shot immediately after a campaign speech

  • August 8: At the Republican Party convention in Miami, Richard Nixon was nominated to be their presidential nominee.

  • August 26: The Democratic National Convention began in Chicago and was heavily protested by anti-war groups like the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Yippies. Mayor Daley of Chicago responded with a heavy police presence, violent dismantling of demonstrations, and mass arrests.

  • October 31: President Johnson announced there would be a total halt of US bombing in North Vietnam

  • November 5: Richard Nixon won the 1968 Presidential election

  • November 26: South Vietnamese government joined the Paris peace talks 

The selected items from the Abbitt Collection sample the voices of politicians and constituents from Southside Virginia and their reactions to the events of 1968. This exhibit hopes to capture the intimate relationship between local leaders, like Watkins Abbitt, and the people of their district. The national climate of social and political change around the events of 1968 triggered an influx of concerned letters and served as opportunities for Abbitt to express his conservative beliefs and opposition to federal intervention to the structure of southern society.

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Watkins Moorman Abbitt, 1908-1998


A short biogrpahy of Congressman Watkins Moorman Abbitt. 

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