Great story among 'Great Books' St. John's College: Martin Dyer fund to help needy students, in spirit of its namesake.

October 13, 1997

MANY INSTITUTIONS OF higher learning create endowments in the names of celebrated alumni. This fall, St. John's College in Annapolis established a fund in the name of an alumnus many of its own graduates may never have heard of.

The private school in Annapolis, known for its "Great Books" curriculum, has set up a book fund named for Martin A. Dyer. He was the first black student accepted at St. John's College, which dates to 1696 as King William's School.

Recruited from a poor neighborhood in East Baltimore in 1948, Mr. Dyer, a Dunbar High School graduate, is also believed to be the first black student to attend a private college south of the Mason-Dixon line.

His enrollment at St. John's came six years before the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unequal; nine years before the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., and 20 years before the Anne Arundel County public schools that surround St. John's were integrated.

Mr. Dyer now manages a fair housing program in Baltimore. He retired several years ago from a 30-year career in the federal government. When he attended St. John's, he recalls not being able to eat in the same restaurants as his fellow classmates, see a movie or get a haircut in town.

St. John's chose to name its fund for him because of his contributions to the college and his historic roll in the school's integration. He was one of four graduates honored with the alumni association's Order of Merit at homecoming festivities last month.

The fund drive, which began weeks ago, already has enough money to supply one student with a full series of "Great Books" needed for study at St. John's. Its students earn degrees by reading classic works in many fields, attending tutorial seminars and preparing a senior thesis.

Although students can borrow the books they need for study from the library, or buy and resell them to the bookstore after use, faculty members feel it is important for students to keep their own copies to begin a personal library. The Dyer fund should enable deserving students to build a book collection, and with it an appreciation for literature that will last a lifetime.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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