A 20-year-old former student faces up to a year in jail, and a hefty fine, after he draped a noose around the neck of a statute dedicated to a university’s first black student.
Graeme Phillip Harris, who attended the University of Mississippi, pleaded guilty to threatening force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university when he also draped a former Georgia state flag – that features the Confederate battle flag – on the monument of James Meredith in February last year.
In 1962, Mr Meredith – a black American – attempted to enrol at the university, also known as Ole Miss, when severe rioting erupted on campus in protest of his admission.
Mr Meredith became synonymous with the protests when he was pictured being escorted by armed federal agents as he enrolled, under court order, as the first black student at the university.
Two were killed and over 300 civilians were left injured after the all-night rioting and, in 2006, the university erected a statue on campus to commemorate his historic role in civil rights.
James Meredith is accompanied by two US Marshalls in 1962 as white students jeer after he registered for entry at Ole Miss
After the noose and flag had been hanged on the statue, Assistant US Attorney, Bob Norman, described how Mr Harris, who was a student at the university at the time of the incident, had a history of using racist language and saying African-Americans were inferior to whites.
The attorney also told how Mr Harris, and another freshman, returned to the statue at sunrise the following day to observe and were filmed by a video camera at the Ole Miss student union.
Mr Harris had initially pleaded not guilty, but as part of his deal with prosecutors, he admitted to the crime in exchange for prosecutors dropping a felony charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights – which could have resulted in him being jailed for up to ten years.
Mr Harris, right, enters the federal court with his attorney
Mr Meredith, now 81, said that it appeared the only justice black people could expect was from the federal government and not from state officials.
In a statement, the university said that, as the case nears its end, it hopes to bring closure to all those affected by the incident and added: “This further affirms that conduct of this nature will not be tolerated on our campus.”