The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Historical Film

I saw the new Aaron Sorkin film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, on Netflix over the weekend and would like to recommend the film to any students interested in historical film.

Photo: Promotional poster for The Trial of the Chicago 7.

I periodically teach HIST 390 History and Film at Northern Illinois University on the theme of War in Film, and the course includes a section on the Vietnam War in film and television. The Department of History at Northern Illinois regularly offers HIST 390 History and Film, taught by different professors on various themes.

There are lots of reviews, articles, and interviews about The Trial of the Chicago 7 already available online. NPR’s Fresh Air reviewed the film this weekend. Esquire published an article on the historical background. Mashable has an article on separating fact from fiction in the film.

Photo: Anti-War protesters confronting the Chicago Police in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Northern Illinois University students will be interested in some of the local connections with the Anti-War Protests, the 1968 Chicago National Convention, and the Trial of the Chicago Seven.  

The 125 Key Moments website at Northern Illinois University provides an account of an anti-war protest on campus in 1969.

The website also discusses the May 1970 anti-war protests at Northern Illinois University in the wake of the Kent State Massacre.

I can suggest a local response to The Trial of the Chicago 7, written by Marjorie Fritz-Birch, whose mother served as a juror in the trial of the Chicago Seven. The article indicates that “Fritz-Birch, then an anti-war college student, attended an appearance of Chicago Seven defendant Rennie Davis at Northern Illinois University.”

Photo: Courtroom scene from The Trial of the Chicago 7.

John H. Collins (Professor of History, Northern Illinois University) wrote a letter to the editors of The New York Times in 1970, in response to the expected convictions of the Chicago Seven defendants (which came two days later on 18 February 1970).

Here is the text of Collins’s letter:

Fate has presented President Nixon with a magnificent opportunity. With a stroke of the pen he can defuse the student revolt, preempt the most effective arguments of the New Left and destroy the plausibility of charges of protofascism now openly leveled at his Administration.

To Pardon the ‘Seven’

To the Editor:

He can do all this without any sacrifice of his own principles. Let him issue full and free pardons to the “Chicago Seven” and their lawyers. The offenses are Federal offenses.

For months these men have displayed themselves before the American public in all their honorable idealism and indignation, and in all their calculated contumacity, fanaticism and vulgarity. They no longer represent, if they ever did, that clear and present danger which alone could justify their suppression.

In jail they will be martyrs, fueling the militant protest, serving as exhibit “A” in every radical propagandist’s case. Pardoned they will stand, in the words of Jefferson, as monuments to the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated so long as reason is left free to combat it.

Will Mr. Nixon seize this chance? Or will he wait until “Free the Seven” demonstrations have been mounted all over the country, and his hands are tied by the political necessity of not seeming to yield to organized pressure?

JOHN H. COLLINS Professor of History Northern Illinois University DeKalb, III., Feb. 16, 1970

Numerous interviews with the main protagonists of the Chicago Seven trial are available, especially from the anniversary commemorations of the 1968 Riots at the Democratic National Convention. I can signal a POV interview with Tom Hayden and a Media Burn interview with Abbie Hoffman.

The Chicago History Museum has an online exhibition on Chicago: Law and Disorder about the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Anti-War Protests, and Police Riot.

This entry was posted in Civil Conflict, Civilians and Refugees in War, Comparative Revolutions, Crowd Studies, Historical Film, History in the Media, History of Violence, Human Rights, Illinois History and Society, Museums and Historical Memory, Northern Illinois University, Peacemaking Processes, Political Activism and Protest Culture, Political Culture, Revolts and Revolutions, War in Film, War, Culture, and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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