The 2020 Republican National Convention has become a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as the Democratic Convention had the week before. Here LIFE dips into its archives for a colorful look at what the GOP event was like when people could safely convene.
LIFE’s first major coverage of a Republican National Convention was in its issue of June 24, 1940. At that gathering in Philadelphia, the Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie for the tough and ultimately futile task of challenging the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.
The Philadelphia Convention Hall teemed during the 1940 Republican National Convention.
The 1956 Republican National Convention, which took place at the Cow Palace just outside San Francisco, re-nominated incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. It was the first RNC to take place after that year’s Democratic National Convention, rather than before. After 1956, it became an informal tradition that the party holding the White House held their convention second.
Vice President Richard Nixon with his wife, Pat Nixon, at the 1956 Republican National Convention.
Many of the color photographs taken during the 1956 RNC were shot by LIFE staff photographer Leonard McCombe. His beautiful frames imparted elegance to the sometimes-gimmicky qualities of a party convention.
LIFE photographer Leonard McCombe looked for captivating images at the 1956 Republican Convention in San Francisco.
Eisenhower and Nixon went on to win the 1956 election, easily defeating Adlai Stevenson. Four years later Vice President Nixon stepped up to lead the Republican ticket, and he had no opponents for the 1960 nomination.
The LIFE cover from August 8, 1960, featured Richard and Pat Nixon at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.
The 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated Richard Nixon for president and former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts for vice president. It was the 14th time Chicago hosted the RNC, more times than any other city.
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon greeted a supporter at the 1960 Republican National Convention.
The 1960 presidential election was closely contested, and Nixon lost to the Democratic nominee, Senator John F. Kennedy. Some believed that Nixon’s convention promise of visiting every state—while Kennedy focussed on popular swing states—was one of the reasons that Nixon lost.
The July 24, 1964 cover of LIFE featuring Barry Goldwater with his wife Peggy at the 1964 Republican National Convention.
The 1964 Republican National Convention was held in the same location as the 1956 RNC, the Cow Palace Arena outside San Francisco. The Republican primaries pitted liberal Nelson Rockefeller of New York against Conservative Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater secured the nomination for president, and New York representative William Miller received the nomination for vice president.
Goldwater’s winning of the nomination meant a change for the party, as described by LIFE in its July 24th, 1964 issue, with Goldwater on the cover:
In a crescendo that thrust Barry Goldwater into control, the Republican changed both its course and its nature. In flashes of anger and pathos, of bitterness and exultation – captured on these pages by the color cameras of LIFE photographers – the G.O.P. was seized by its unyielding right wing.
Gold coins rained down on delegates after Goldwater won the presidential nomination at the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
The 1964 gathering was the first in which a woman was entered for nomination at a major party convention. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a moderate Republican, placed fifth in the initial balloting.
Delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention held signs supporting the candidacy of Senator Margaret Chase Smith for president; she placed fifth on the first ballot.
The 1968 Republican National Convention took place in the Miami Beach convention center in Florida. As they had eight years before, Republicans nominated former Vice President Richard Nixon for president, and Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew was chosen for vice president.
An enthusiastic crowd greeted Richard Nixon standing at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.
Though Nixon was the frontrunner during the convention, California Governor Ronald Reagan and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller also received several hundred votes. LIFE’s coverage of the Miami Beach RNC was the most colorful yet. An article written by Paul O’Neil in the August 16, 1968 issue of LIFE details go-go music, ‘gaudy’ headgear, costumes, and even a Rockefeller showboat that moved up and down a river by the convention’s hotels.
A Rockefeller supporter on a showboat waved to a Nixon boat during the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.
The 1972 Republican National Convention was supposed to take place in San Diego, but because of labor costs and scandals, the GOP changed course three months beforehand and decided to return to Miami Beach to re-nominate Richard Nixon for president.
The 1972 RNC set a new standard for party conventions, as it was a scripted media event with a schedule of speeches, setting the stage for the modern party convention.
First Lady Patricia Nixon spoke at the 1972 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.
The Democratic National Convention (DNC) has been held every four years since 1832. The convention is typically known for its pomp, with colored balloons and decorated hats, and plenty of cheering and yelling. Speakers from the party convey policy goals and the party officially declares its nominee for president.
With the Covid-19 pandemic necessitating social distancing, the 2020 DNC was designed in the form of shortened online programing. The digital format broke years of party tradition of gathering delegates in large arenas—including near the end of World War II, in 1944, and through the four DNC’s from 1960 through 1972.
Newspaper boys held up headlines noting the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler outside the 1944 Democratic Club before the Democratic National Convention.
LIFE staffers were sent to photograph national party conventions nearly every year they were held. The first major coverage of the Democratic National Convention appeared in the July 29th, 1940 issue. The article, “President Roosevelt Answers a Call to Run for a Third Term,” featured photographs of delegates and reporters at nightclubs where they “sought refuge from (a) dull convention.”
In later issues, LIFE published more color news coverage, so photographs of conventions through the 60’s show lively and patriotic displays of party nomination. The 1960 Democratic National Convention made it as cover news for the July 25th issue. It took place at the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson received the nomination for Vice President, and joined the Democratic ticket with John F. Kennedy.
Supporters of John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National convention, 1960.
Accompanying the glitter and buttons were a group of female supporters for John F. Kennedy known as the “Kennedy Cuties.” The group wore matching pinstripe dresses, conspicuous hats and colorful buttons. They cheered on attendees and danced in a conga line at the airport for Kennedys arrival to the convention.
Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy beside his Vice Presidential nominee Lyndon B. Johnson, Democratic National Convention, Biltmore Hotel, 1960.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, defeating incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. By the fall of 1963 Kennedy and his team were preparing for the upcoming presidential election. Although he didn’t formally announce his candidacy, Kennedy’s motorcade travels and appearances were used to sound out policy themes for another presidential run.
Less than a year after Kennedy’s death, 1964 DNC took place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. President Lyndon B. Johnson, was nominated for a full term and Senator Herbert Humphrey of Massachusetts was nominated for Vice President.
The 1964 Democratic National Convention in Jersey City Boardwalk Hall, New Jersey.
On the last day of the 1964 convention, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy introduced a short film in his brother’s memory. RFK was met with a standing ovation for nearly 20 minutes as the crowd cheered and yelled in adoration for him and his late brother. In addition to the short film, and RFK’s brief tribute, attendees were able to view memorial areas with photographs of President Kennedy.
Robert F. Kennedy on the phone at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Similar to the “Kennedy Cuties” at the 1960 DNC, Johnson had an all female group of supporters called the “Johnson Jersey Girls.” LIFE staff photographer Ralph Crane took photographs of the group dressed in matching dresses and enjoying rides at the Atlantic City boardwalk.
The “Jersey Johnson Girls” riding in a teacup ride at the Atlantic City boardwalk during the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
In the 1964 election Johnson defeated Republican nominee, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, in a landslide. Johnson’s full term as president established several civil rights passages, a “war on poverty,” and increased involvement in the Vietnam war. The increased military presence sparked a strong anti-war movement, which set the stage for the following election, in 1968.
The 1968 DNC was held at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Illinois. Johnson’s popularity rapidly declined due to Vietnam war involvement, and as a result he announced he would not seek re-election. Several democratic candidates competed for the nomination. They included LBJ’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, and George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama.
Delegates holding signs to support Hubert Humphrey at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago.
Hubert Humphrey won the nomination for President, and Edmund Muskie received the nomination for Vice President. The convention discussion revolved around Vietnam war involvement, and civil rights unrest. Riots in hundreds of cities followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that spring.
Antiwar signs at the 1968 Democratic National Convention Democratic, Chicago.
Humphrey lost the 1968 election to Republican Richard Nixon, who promised to restore law and order in rioting cities and provide new leadership in the Vietnam war. Four years later, the 1972 Democratic National Convention took place at the Miami Beach Convention center in Miami Beach, Florida.
The convention nominated Senator George McGovern of South Dakota for President and Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri for Vice President. Eagleton was later dropped from the ticket and replaced by Sargent Shriver of Maryland.
Convention attendee wearing a hat with political buttons at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Humphrey lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a landslide election, but the 1972 DNC implemented new delegate selection reforms. This became the first formal set of party rules for nomination procedure.
The deaths of two of the nation’s most influential civil rights advocates came during a time marked by protests for police reform and racial justice, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. John Lewis, 80, and Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, 95, both died on July 17, 2020. At the time of his death. Lewis was serving his 34th year in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vivian was an important minister and leader. A story about some of Lewis and Vivian’s work in the 1960s, as well as unique LIFE photographs chronicling those events is below.
John Lewis (R) seated during a discussion with other freedom riders while in the basement of Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s Church, Montgomery, Alabama, May 1961.
Both John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were on the front lines of 1960’s racial justice reform. They were part of the original Freedom Riders and worked alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Vivian served as King’s field general and Lewis helped organized the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Several LIFE staffers photographed these early reform movements. Their images are extraordinary freeze-frames of the 1960’s fight for racial justice, capturing the passion and resilience of the activists and demonstrators.
LIFE photographer Joe Scherschel also captured scenes from the Freedom Rider’s trips, often photographing National Guard troops around the busses and the interactions the group had challenging “white only” sections within bus terminals. Scherschel and Schutzer’s photos are from the leg of the Freedom Rides from Montgomery, AL to Jackson, MI.
Reverend C.T. Vivian on a bus with the freedom riders traveling from Montgomery, AL to Jackson, Mississippi, 1961.
The Freedom Riders made a series of bus trips in 1961 to challenge segregated interstate travel through the South. The original group was made up of 13 activists (7 Black and 6 white) chosen by the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE). Their plan was to travel on Greyhound and Trailways busses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana.
While driving through Southern states, they were met with violence from mobs of Klansmen and segregationists. Once, stopped at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the group tried to enter a white waiting room together. John Lewis, then 21, was brutally attacked by a white police officer. Two of his fellow riders were also attacked and beaten. The Freedom Riders responded with non-violence and decided not to press charges.
Violence escalated as the group moved down to Alabama. The first bus was firebombed near Anniston. Klansmen ambushed the buses and nearly burned the riders alive. Similar violence occurred in Birmingham, where riders were dragged from the bus and beaten. At this point, the original Freedom Riders separated. Several flew to New Orleans to a rally, where they were scheduled to speak.
John Lewis continued on the rides along with several new group members from the Nashville Student Movement (NSM). C.T. Vivian was among the Nashville activists who replaced injured riders in Montgomery, Alabama. Vivian and Lewis were familiar with one another from having organized non-violent sit-ins and protests throughout Nashville.
The Greyhound bus station in downtown Montgomery became another site of white violence, so the Freedom Riders sought refuge in Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church. Abernathy was also a leader of the civil rights movement and a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. On Sunday, May 21, 1961, more than 1,000 people and civil rights activists gathered in the church to show support for the Freedom Riders.
Rev. Ralph Abernathy delivering a sermon to activists and demonstrators taking refuge in his church, 1961.
While white angry mobs gathered outside, Schutzer and Scherschel took photographs of the riders, demonstrators, and fellow-supporters. The images are powerful portraits of the relentless fatigue experienced by the Black community during these acts of violence.
Freedom riders sitting during a service in Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Church, Montgomery, Alabama, May 1961. John Lewis is looking at the camera. From left to right: John Lewis, Carl Bush, Joseph Carter, William Mithcell, rest unidentified.
Portrait of Freedom Riders, in the basement of Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Church, Montgomery, Alabama, May 1961. Pictured are, front row, from left: Allen Cason Jr., Frederick Leonard, Etta Simpson, William B. Mitchell, Ruby D. Smith, John Lewis, and Charles Butler; second row: Joseph Carter, Lucretia Collins, Patricia Jenkins, Carl Bush, Catherine Burks, and Paul E. Brooks; standing: Clarence Wright, Bernard La Fayette Jr., Rudolph Graham, and William Harbour.
The Freedom Riders met in the basement of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s church and got on the phone with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to call for help. Kennedy dispatched the National Guard, who used tear gas to disperse the violent crowd, and helped to escort the people inside the church to safety.
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during a press conference to discuss the violence facing the Freedom Riders, 1961.
After Kennedy’s troops successfully disbanded the mob, the Freedom Riders were loaded onto a National Guard truck and moved from the church to the safe house of Dr. Richard Harris. There, they continued organizing plans for the Freedom Rides, and rested before their next departure. Schutzer went with the Freedom Riders to the safe house and continued taking photographs. Below, a view of bandaged John Lewis speaking with other Freedom Riders.
A bandaged John Lewis (center left) discussing with Rev. Abernathy and other Freedom Riders at a Montgomery safe house, 1961.
On May 24, 1961, after spending some time in the safe house, the Freedom Riders were escorted by the National Guard to the Montgomery Trailways bus station. The group, including John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, got on a bus that departed for Jackson, Mississippi. The troops Kennedy had sent in cordoned off streets and the station to protect the riders.
National guard soldiers patrolling around the Freedom Riders’ bus Montgomery, Alabama, 1961.
Freedom riders standing at a bus terminal ticket counter to get tickets for their 1961 ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Reverend C.T. Vivian (back center) facing Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. leaning against the counter.
Demonstrations of hate continued, including by the Lincoln Rockwell “Hate Bus.” Seen along the routes of the Freedom Riders, the bus was adorned with slogans supporting white supremacy. Groups of white men dressed as Nazis rode the bus to speaking engagements of civil rights activists and followed the Freedom Riders.
White men dressed as Nazis standing by a ‘Hate Bus’ to oppose the Freedom Riders, 1961.
Upon arrival to the Trailways bus station in Jackson, Mississippi, John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were arrested along with other Freedom Riders. The violence in Montgomery drew worldwide attention and forced the National government to intervene with civil rights hate crimes.
Rev. C.T. Vivian stepping into the Jackson Mississippi Police car after his arrest, 1961.
C.T. Vivian went on to join the executive staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as the Director of Affiliates. He coordinated local civil rights groups and advised King while organizing demonstrations in Alabama and Florida.
John Lewis also continued fiercely with his civil rights activism. Two years later, he went on to help plan the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which included King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The march, which took place in August of 1963, was photographed by LIFE’s Francis Miller, Robert W. Kelly, and John Dominis.
Portrait of racial justice activists and organizers for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 1963. Bottom right to left: Roy Wilkens, Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Cleveland Robinson, Whitney Young. Top row right to left: Walter Reuther, Floyd McKissick, Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, John Lewis, Rabbi Joachim Prinz.
Civil rights activists standing arm in arm for the March on Washington, August, 1963. From left to right: John Lewis, Matthew Ahman, Floyd McKissick, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, Cleveland Robin, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkens, Walter Reuther.
One of the most innovative and original artists of modern times, Christo, died at age 84 on May 31, 2020. His death came 11 years after the passing of his wife, Jeanne-Claude. Known as artists under a singular name, ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude,’ they worked as one to create their eye-grabbing, large-scale site-specific installations.
Christo in front of his environmental installation “Corridor Store Front.”
To commemorate Christo is to ponder an eccentric designer of architectural clothing. His projects with Jeanne-Claude, called wrappings, masterfully dressed buildings and monuments in an act that was both a makeover and a demolition. Although his most recent works made use of colored barrels, curtains, archways, and island extensions, his most iconic pieces deployed vast swaths of sheeting made from plastics and fabrics. The sheets, held up by miles of thick, prickly-strung rope, billowed in cascades and met at the cinches.
In 1968 LIFE staffer Carlo Bavagnolicaptured Christo gracefully constructing his first large-scale wrapping project, and Bavagnoli also shot two other installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that same year. These photos capture Christo’s skill at highlighting both the physical and bureaucratic structures that surround public architecture.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrappings challenged the visual presence of public architecture by, as Art News put it in their tribute to the late artist, “deconstructing and reconstructing the way we think about those structures.” In effect, their sheets covered fine architectural details but highlighted building structure. Sharp juts of corners and smooth curves of domes became accentuated, while a new void of color and texture called on viewers’ memories to fill in the details of a building that was simultaneously on display but held hostage.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude bunched up plastic sheeting while constructing “5,600 Cubic Meter Package,” for Documenta IV in 1968.
The artwork was more than the finished product. Every step and challenge of a wrapping constituted the piece. Christo and Jeanne-Claude pushed back against the wills of city officials, insurers, and engineers to gain permissions. Exploring the restraints of these civil systems was part of the work. In 1972 Christo told the New York Times:
“For me esthetics is everything involved in the process – the workers, the politics, the negotiations, the construction difficulty, the dealings with hundreds of people… The whole process becomes an esthetic – that’s what I’m interested in, discovering the process. I put myself in dialogue with other people.”
That process prevented the two from seeing through large-scale wrappings early in their careers. But in 1968, the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, became the site for their first large-scale wrapping. Wrapped Kunsthalle pushed their nearly decade-old proposals into reality, at last at their imagined scale.
The museum was a running start. During 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude embarked on five major projects that involved over 50,000 square feet of sheeting, and over 4 miles of rope. Bavagnoli shot three of these installations.
Wrapped Kunsthalle: Bern, Switzerland
Wrapped Kunsthalle was part of an international group show for the Kunsthalle museum’s 50th anniversary. A dozen artists participated, by presenting a variety of environmental works. Instead of showing something inside the halls, Christo and Jeanne-Claude cloaked the museum in 26,156 square feet of reinforced polyethylene. Christo said of the exhibition, “We took the environments by eleven other artists and wrapped them. We had our whole environment inside.”
Christo stood on top of the Swiss art museum, Kunsthalle, fastening rope and plastic sheeting around a pillar for his installation “Wrapped Kunsthalle,” 1968.
Visitors moved through a slit of plastic sheeting from Christo’s “Wrapped Kunsthalle” to enter the Kunsthalle Swiss art museum. The museum was covered all but for one opening for visitors to move in and out, 1968.
It took six days to wrap the museum, with help from an 11-person team. It was both an installation feat, and a bureaucratic one. Insurance companies refused to protect the museum while it was wrapped. In lieu of insurance, six security guards were hired to stand watch for potential fire and vandalism. The measure was so costly that the building was unwrapped after a week.
A panorama view of Christo’s “Wrapped Kunsthalle,” the Swiss art museum covered in plastic sheeting for an art show celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary in 1968.
In July 1968, while Christo was working on Wrapped Kunsthalle, Jeanne-Claude was in the town of Spoleto, Italy. The two had proposed wrapping the Spoleto Opera House for the Festival of Two Worlds, but they were denied due to fire laws. Instead, they wrapped a medieval tower landmark and a baroque fountain at the Spoleto marketplace.
With Christo in Bern and Jeanne-Claude in Spoleto, neither was able to see the other’s completed wrapping. But later in the summer, the two reunited and completed 5,600 Cubic Meter Package.
A medieval tower on the outskirts of Spoleto, Italy was wrapped for the “Festival of Two Worlds,” 1968.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed 5,600 Cubic Meter Package as part of the contemporary art exhibition, Documenta IV in 1968. The installation was the largest ever inflated structure without a skeleton.
Its construction involved the two tallest cranes Europe had to offer, plus professional riggers, heat sealed fabric and a 3.5-ton steel cradle as a support base. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had a chief engineer, Dimiter Zagoroff, who created the base and helped coordinate the package’s inflation. The result was a striking display of collaboration and engineering work, the sort of which would continue through the rest of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s lifetime of installation.
Christo and his head engineer, Dimiter Zagoroff, discussed the construction of the metal support base for “5,600 Cubic Meter Package,” 1968.