By Errol Castens
OXFORD – FBI agents are lending a hand with the investigation of an incident that happened Sunday morning at the University of Mississippi in which a noose was placed on the approximately life-sized statue of civil rights icon James Meredith.
A now-defunct version of the Georgia state flag that included the Confederate battle flag also was draped over the statue.
University Police Chief Calvin Sellers said a $25,000 reward offered by the Ole Miss Alumni Association for information leading to arrests has generated numerous leads.
“That reward’s bringing out a lot of tips, and we’re following them all,” he said.
Sellers said agents from the local office of the FBI are assisting with the investigation because of the resources they can bring to bear and to open the possibility of charging suspects with a federal hate crime. He said most state crimes with which the perpetrators could be charged are misdemeanors.
“Before we press any (state) charges, we would talk with the county prosecutor,” Sellers said.
A plumbing subcontractor who was working in the J.D. Williams Library adjacent to the Meredith statue is the only known eyewitness, he said.
“He didn’t actually see them do it; he saw some people in the area and thought it was strange for them to be there at 6:30 on a Sunday morning,” Sellers said. “When he got to the statue, he saw what had been done and thought it must have been them.”
The statue was commissioned to honor Meredith, who became the university’s first black student in 1962, prompting deadly riots that were quelled by some 30,000 federalized troops.
Among numerous racial advances in more than a half-century since, Ole Miss’ enrollment is now 24.8 percent minorities, hosted the first Presidential Debate in which a black candidate (then-Sen. Barack Obama) represented a major party, and is the home of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.