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In 1963, the University of Alabama integrated, too. Vivian Malone and James Hood were initially blocked from entering by Governor Wallace, who symbolically stood in the door of the university auditorium. But he was overruled by U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, and the students were allowed in. Historians consider it a peaceful integration — there was no rioting like at Ole Miss.
Meyer believes the university’s administration did not want him there for that event. The school helped organize a plum internship for him with the Peace Corps office in Washington, D.C., and he missed the integration.
After graduation, Meyer’s life took unconventional turns. His senior year, he stopped working at the Crimson White and delved into his philosophy courses. He also started protesting the Vietnam War. Marjorie, Meyer’s sister, remembers that her family was especially proud when he received a scholarship to study philosophy at Vanderbilt University. The family thought he would end up a professor of philosophy or religion.
But the counterculture called.
“I wanted to practice spirituality, not study it,” said Meyer.
Meyer’s doctoral work focused on cosmic laughter. He completed the coursework but left Vanderbilt for the West Coast to study with a hippie Sufi leader, Murshid Samuel Lewis. He became deeply involved in Sufi Islam and today travels the country and the world teaching Sufism, dharma classes and spiritual dancing. But he still considers himself Jewish.
On the way, Meyer taught English for about a decade at an alternative school in Virginia and raised three daughters on his own after a divorce. He is now remarried and has a ten-year-old son. Meyer’s snow white, wavy hair, which he often wears in a ponytail, reaches past his shoulders. A drawl still flavors his speech. His frequent smile shows a gap between his teeth.
On a rare trip back home to Starkville soon after college, Meyer’s father asked him if he noticed any changes in the town. “I told him the big change was that Robert E. Lee Boulevard was changed to Martin Luther King Boulevard,” said Meyer. “I feel that the biggest change in attitudes in the South is due to blacks’ achievements in sports, which Southerners are passionate about.”
Meyer holds a position of mystique and inspiration on the University of Alabama campus.
The upcoming 50th anniversary of the school’s integration has caused Meyer to think about long-ago events.
Reflecting back on his experiences, Meyer said he would tell students today to look at what he did and see that it’s important to have a mind to question and challenge what passes as conventional wisdom.
“Have your own authentic voice and dare to stand for it,” Meyer said.
Dina Weinstein is a journalist based in South Florida.