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“It took me a while to realize it was Melvin who was right,” he said.
After the editorial was published, Meyer, a junior, and his editorial staff at the Crimson White office fielded dozens of angry letters, many of them virulently anti-Semitic. “It makes me sick to see you dirty Jews going around pretending to be American,” read one letter, which is currently housed by Mississippi State University as part of an archive of Meyer’s family albums. “Someday soon the white people of this country will cleanse themselves of scum like you.”
“I joked that [if quarterback] Joe Namath was the most popular student on campus, I was the least popular,” recalled Meyer.
There were also plenty of supportive letters from all over the country.
“I laughed it off,” recalled Meyer. “I was young and probably should have been more afraid than I was. I thought it was humorous. I liked making fun of stupidity. We ran the hate letters with a lot of (sic)s to make fun of the writers as half-literate, uneducated people.”
But the University of Alabama administration took the threats against Meyer seriously, arranging for armed guards to follow him around. Meyer didn’t trust the guards, who previously served as policemen under Birmingham’s notoriously racist Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor.
“I was never quite sure if the guards were there to spy on me or protect me,” said Meyer, who remembers feeling annoyed by their crowding presence.
The bodyguards filed daily reports with the University of Alabama vice president. They documented real danger — night rider Klansmen cruised by Meyer’s apartment on a regular basis. Even so, Meyer often tried to give his keepers the slip. One of the reports, housed in a University of Alabama special library collection, details a conversation the guards had with Meyer and his friends to dissuade them from making a Jack Kerouac-style hitchhiking trip to California over winter break. The guards thought Meyer would be endangered by the Klan as they traveled through the South.