Way Back at Mac: Macalester’s history of protest–a capstone feature

Usually, this column dwells entirely in olden days, the yesterdays, the years past, past lives and general times of antiquity — you get the idea. However, this week we’ll come back to the future (actually the present, but that opportunity was too good) to see how a student is engaging with Macalester’s history.

Current senior, history major and anthropology minor, Sara Ludewig ’17 is writing her honors thesis about activism at Macalester in the 1960s and 70s. Tentatively titled, “Marching Against the Madness: Macalester College and the Counterculture 1966-1974”, the paper focuses specifically on the counterculture and anti-Vietnam movements. Ludewig explains that she became interested in this topic her sophomore year after taking a class called “The U.S. Since 1945” and she began to wonder how the larger national movements were reflected at Macalester.

The protests on the 60s and 70s took on a variety of forms. Students participated in “take-overs” of Grand Avenue where students blocked Grand for several hours and other community protests such as marches. In 1970, Macalester students joined the University of Minnesota anti-war movement in a march to the Capitol building in St. Paul.

Some students put up crosses on Dupre lawn with red paint on them to symbolize blood in protest of those dying in Vietnam. They observed Vietnam War Moratorium Day, a day when participating students did not attend classes or work, in order to show that life couldn’t go on as normal while the war continued.

The Macalester community also protested the April 1970 Cambodian invasion by essentially going on strike. The student body voted to strike in early May along with hundreds of other schools around the country such as the University of Washington and Columbia University. Surprisingly, President Arthur Fleming was supportive of student activism and backed the idea of ending the school year early (at that point, the semester ended in late May, so students got out a month early). Thus, in early May 1970, students got their grades as they were at that point in the semester, and campus emptied out.

The Civil Rights Movement also partially overlapped with this time period; however, Macalester did not see much participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Ludewig theorizes this may be because there were few students of color at Macalester at the time. In the 1960s, Macalester began the EEO program, or Expanding Educational Opportunities program. The EEO created an African-American Studies program, hired more faculty members of color and created support systems for students of color on campus such as the creation of the Black House as a cultural center for black students. However, this initiative worked slowly at its conception, so civil rights issues were not a large part of activism at Macalester in the 1960s.