This past February, a trio of University of Mississippi students allegedly hung a noose and placed an old Georgia state flag bearing the Confederate symbol on the campus statue of James Meredith. Meredith was the school’s first Black student. The students are under investigation by the University and the FBI, but cannot be charged with a hate crime because no damage was done.
But the three men were members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, and the national office closed down the school’s chapter last Thursday. Sig Ep officials said the noose and flag incident wasn’t the sole reason why the Ole Miss chapter was closed, but confirmed the case helped launch an investigation of other violations made by frat members such as hazing and underage drinking. The chapter had run into similar problems in 2010.
Meredith, now 80, spoke out against the vandalism with the Los Angeles Times.
“That just clearly shows that we’re not training our children like the Bible says,” Meredith said. “They don’t know right and wrong, good and bad and how to apply it to life.” Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, Meredith’s aim was to exercise his constitutional rights and spark the Kennedy administration to bolster fairness for African-Americans.
Denied entry to the school twice, Meredith was supported by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and advised by Medgar Evers. He sued Ole Miss and his case entered the U.S. District Court in 1961. It made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Meredith. Mississippi’s governor at the time, Ross Barnett, pulled every trick to block Meredith, including bringing up a past arrest record.
Then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy called Barnett on Meredith’s behalf and he was finally allowed to enter Ole Miss in 1962. Meredith’s presence at the school sparked riots in the town of Oxford, forcing Kennedy to send in U.S. Army troops and 500 U.S. Marshals to support local law enforcement.
The riots left two dead, and scores injured including over 160 law enforcement officials. Meredith graduated from Ole Miss in 1963, eventually earning his law degree from Columbia University in 1968.