A former University of Mississippi student has been indicted on federal civil rights charges, accused of placing a noose and a Confederate symbol around the neck of a statue of James Meredith, the civil rights leader who desegregated the school, it was announced on Friday.
Graeme Phillip Harris is accused of hanging the rope and an old Georgia flag that bears a Confederate symbol around the neck of the statue. Meredith was the first African American to break the color line in 1962 and enroll in what had been an all-white university.
Federal troops protected Meredith so he could enter the school in Oxford, Miss., and overcome the opposition of the state's white government.
According to the Justice Department, Harris faces two counts of violating civil rights laws.
One count accuses Harris, who is no longer at the university, of conspiracy and alleges that he used the cover of darkness early in the morning of Feb. 16, 2014, to deface the statue with racist symbols. The other count accuses him of using the threat of force "to threaten and intimidate African American students and employees" at the school because of their race.
"This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. "No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are.
"By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished."