Martin Appell Dyer
Lawyer and fair-housing advocate was the first African-American to attend St. John's College in Annapolis
Martin A. Dyer (Baltimore Sun / September 19, 2011)
He was 80.
The son of Martin A. Dyer, a steelworker, and Margaret Louise Dyer, a secretary to Lillie Mae Jackson when she was president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he was born and raised in East Baltimore.
After graduating from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1948, he entered St. John's College.
"St. John's was the first college south of the Mason-Dixon Line to voluntarily desegregate," said Barbara Goyette, vice president of the college.
"There was no trouble on campus, even though college officials were worried because Annapolis was so segregated in those days. Where would he get his haircut or eat?" said Ms. Goyette. "He formed strong alliances on campus and even formed an interracial basketball league."
In 2004 at a ceremony at St. John's honoring Mr. Dyer and six other pioneering African-American students who followed him in the early 1950s, he told a reporter for The Baltimore Sun that he attended the college after "a core of students actively scouted Baltimore's two black high schools to recruit students for a college virtually unknown in the black community."
"To accept [blacks] is one thing," Mr. Dyer said. "But to deliberately and consciously seek someone is another."
He recalled being turned away from the Little Campus Inn in Annapolis one evening because of his race.
"I always felt obligated to do well as a representative of my race. Quite honestly, I was alone in the undertaking and felt lonely and isolated," he said. "But I was welcomed on campus, a bastion, and that welcome made all the difference in the world."
Mr. Dyer was interviewed extensively for an oral history project, "So Reason Can Rule: The Necessity of Racial Integration at St. John's College."
After graduating from St. John's in 1952, he enlisted in the Army and served with the 843rd Engineer Battalion in Europe. He was honorably discharged in 1954.
He earned his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1959 and briefly was in private practice.
In the early 1960s, he worked as a congressional intern on Capitol Hill and was awarded a fellowship in congressional operations by the American Political Science Association in 1963.
From 1965 until 1968, he was the principal legislative aide and speechwriter for Alaska Sen. Edward L. "Bob" Bartlett, who had been the architect of Alaskan statehood.
For nearly the next two decades, Mr. Dyer worked in the Health Care Finance Administration. He retired in 1990.
In 1962, he married Jane Weeden, who later retired from the Bryn Mawr School, Oldfields School and Roland Park Country School, where she had taught French and continues to tutor students.
"Because of miscegenation laws in Maryland, they were forced to get married in Cranston, R.I.," said a daughter, Jennifer M. Dyer, a Baltimore graphic artist.
After their marriage, the couple settled in Windsor Hills.