To the Editors of the Echo:
I read with interest Lydia Fanning’s ’20 article, “Not quite riots: hallway mazes, school myths, and a short history of student protests at Colby,” in the November 10 edition of the Echo. She is quite correct in stating: “A quick search in the Echo archives for Colby riots returns exactly zero hits.” A more thorough search does not bring much else. But, despite the dearth of references in the Echo, the Colby archives, and the official college histories, there was a violent riot at Colby involving considerable smashing, burning, and rock-throwing by several hundred students. This did not occur in the turbulent 60s or 70s, but back in the relatively quiet, complacent 1950s—the early days on Mayflower Hill. One of the alumni who witnessed the event, now in his 80s, described it to me as “a very ugly night.”
On May 30, 1956, just before midnight (as reported in the Morning Sentinel, the Lewiston Journal, and the Boston Globe), an angry group of male students hung an effigy representing the faculty from the campus flagpole, set it on fire, and burned the rope off the flagpole for good measure. Thus began the riot. Others began pitching rocks and some 31 windows were reported smashed. The crowd grew to more than 200 and moved on to what was then the women’s end of campus and regrouped at what is now the Mary Low parking lot, presumably where they could be seen and heard from the President’s House. With female students reportedly “egging them on” from their windows, the mob tore the wooden shutters from the lower floors of Mary Low, Coburn, Woodman, and Foss (all the dorms once had wooden shutters) and made a large bonfire. Three hours later, the group finally dispersed. No one was injured and there were no arrests.
What could have caused this riot? Baseball. The 1956 Colby nine had a great season, finishing 10-3-1 and earning their first invitation to the prestigious NCAA Tournament. The Tournament coincided with the week of final exams, however, so the team had to petition the Faculty for permission to delay their examinations for a week. The Faculty swiftly shot down this request, barring the team from participating in the Tournament. The team members and their supporters were furious, and touched off the only known riot in Colby’s history.
Why was this student riot not reported in the Echo? It took place after the last issue of the Echo had been printed for the semester; the next issue wouldn’t be printed until the following September. By then it was old news. Timing is significant in reporting events – an important caveat in searching any archive. Why this riot is not mentioned in the official Colby histories is another matter, and well worth investigating.
-James Merrick, Colbiana Coordinator, Special Collections, Miller Library