James H. Meredith in 1962, the first African-American pupil to attend the University of Mississippi; he was protected by federal troops until he graduated. Credit: Getty Images
The University of Mississippi wants to question three white male students who may have been involved in draping a noose over a statue of James Meredith, the African-American student who braved segregationist mobs to integrate the school in 1962, campus police said on Friday.
Calvin Sellers, university chief of police, said attorneys for the three 19-year-old freshmen from Georgia wanted campus police to produce an arrest warrant before they would allow them to question the students about Sunday's act of vandalism.
Sellers said the three students failed to appear at a prearranged meeting Thursday.
"The University Police Department had gathered enough evidence by late Wednesday to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the students, and both state and federal authorities were working in close coordination to determine whether criminal charges were applicable," the university said in a statement on Friday.
Earlier this week, the university's alumni association offered a $25,000 reward for tips about the incident, and Sellers said school officials indicated that they planned to pursue federal hate crime charges.
Sellers said the reward generated numerous leads.
A construction worker on the campus in Oxford reported seeing two men wrapping the bronze statue of Meredith in an old Georgia state flag bearing the Confederate logo. The vandals were also heard shouting racial slurs, Sellers said.
The campus was the scene of riots in 1962, when hundreds of segregationists protested the admission of Meredith, the school's first black student. Two men died and dozens of people were wounded as federal officials escorted Meredith to campus.
In 2012, the campus made national headlines again when a group of students yelled racial slurs at an impromptu protest after President Barack Obama's re-election.
The university has taken steps to shed remnants of its segregationist past in an effort to welcome all students. The school ditched its sports mascot, Colonel Reb, which many claimed looked like a white plantation owner, for the current mascot, a black bear.