Vietnam Protests Following Kent State, May 1970
The transition from the 1960s into the 1970s marked an upswell of activism in many parts of the United States, and the Colby campus was no exception. The United States’ controversial involvement in Vietnam, dating from 1961 when the first American soldiers landed in Saigon, sparked much of this activity by students and many other segments of society.
The first traces of student activism regarding the war appeared in 1967; a small group of students, supported by an even smaller constituency of faculty, held weekly vigils in front of the Miller Library flagpole. The growing awareness and concern over the Vietnam War transformed the campus in many ways. Anne Pomroy ’70, for example, recalls in an interview with the Colby Magazine that “we were angst ridden all the time. So we’d stay up all night long. We weren’t doing frat parties and drinking and dancing- we were staying up all night long in the Chapel with our sleeping bags, debating something.”
By 1970, community indignation over the war reached new heights, and creative expression also pushed out in new directions. Over 400 Colby students marched through the streets of downtown Waterville on May 6, 1970, in memory of the four students killed at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard just days before and of the lives lost in the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.
This march galvanized a sizable segment of the campus: classes were canceled for the day, and roughly 40% of the student body actively participated in the activities. Students gathered on the lawn of Miller Library at 11 a.m. to lower the U.S. flag in remembrance of the four Kent State victims; later, at 2 p.m., they marched through Waterville and deposited four mock coffins on lawn of the downtown Post Office. Forty students also began a sit-in of Colby’s ROTC Office on this day, which ended two days later on Friday, May 8.
In addition to the actions carried out on Mayflower Hill, Colby activists also collaborated with other campuses in Maine and beyond. Around the same time as the march, the student body voted 1,040 to 177 to join in a nationwide strike to protest U.S. involvement in Cambodia; a vote by the faculty supported the strike. Maine Governor Curtis also sided with the efforts of the activists in his state; outraged by what transpired at Kent State, he proclaimed a day of mourning to remember the dead and the on-going conflict. A statewide
“Maine Day” ensued, marked by strikes at Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin and various activities on the University of Maine at Orono campus. Many students canvassed their communities to raise awareness and prompt discussion about the war. Even high school students participated in the statewide day of action; 200 students, for example, walked out of classes at Brunswick High School to discuss the war in the school’s athletic field.