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The Crimson White’s student editors decided they had to respond to the events. An honors student named Robbie Roberts penned a strongly worded editorial condemning Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett for his vociferous opposition to Meredith’s enrollment. Meyer, the editor-in-chief, said he would publish it anonymously and take the heat for the criticism it was bound to generate.
The editorial, published September 27, 1962, called for Meredith to be admitted. “Morally, there is no justification for his rejection,” it declared. “Legally, there can be no doubt he is entitled to become a student at Mississippi.”
It also warned against creeping intolerance at Ole Miss and beyond: “If the bigot or the demagogue can muster a majority to turn on the Negro, will he necessarily stop there? Or will he next turn to the Catholic and the Jew, or the member of any other minority group?”
Days later, the University of Mississippi erupted into riots as Meredith was finally admitted. At the University of Alabama, Meyer’s trials had just begun.
Soon after the editorial ran, the Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based United Klans of America, the largest Klan organization in the 1960s and 70s, burned a cross on the lawn of Meyer’s Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau. The house received dozens of threatening phone calls. Meyer, who was living in an off-campus apartment at the time, quickly became a social pariah at the fraternity; his ZBT brothers felt they were paying for Meyer’s actions. As Jews trying to blend in with their white, Christian peers, they resented the attention.
“I was pissed off,” said Joe “Skipper” Levin, one of Meyer’s frat brothers. “It disrupted my routine of drinking and going to football games.” He continued: “The burning cross was a wake-up call literally and figuratively. Melvin disrupted our lives without our permission. But it made me think about things I never thought about before.”
Levin credits that eye-opening experience with motivating him, a decade later, to co-found the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. The organization combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation. Levin finds satisfaction in the fact that the SPLC shut down United Klans of America in a civil lawsuit years after it planted that burning cross on the ZBT lawn.