A former University of Mississippi frat boy pleaded guilty to putting a noose and Confederate Flag around the statute of civil rights activist James Meredith — the first African-American student to attend the university in 1962.
Austin Edenfield, 21, waived his indictment and pleaded guilty to the 2014 racially charged incident in Oxford yesterday.
Edenfield was charged with aiding and abetting a person with the intent of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and staff on a university that was publicly funded.
The Washington Post reports that Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity members hatched a plan February 2014 to drape an old Georgia state Confederate flag and a noose around the statue of Meredith. The statue commemorates the trepidation of the young student who integrated the university during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that our universities and our workplaces are free from threats of racial violence,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “We will hold accountable those who attempt to turn places of learning into places of intimidation and fear.”
The University of Mississippi — and the state itself — has been at the center of racially charged incidents. Recently, the state passed legislation making April Confederate Heritage Month — which commemorates the South’s rebellion against the United States.
The state’s legislature has had heated battles over removal of the controversial Confederate flag from state monuments and lands. Those debates resulted in little to no change at all. However, the University of Mississippi has removed the relic from its campus.
According to Associated Press reports, Edenfield now lives in Kennesaw, Georgia. Edenfield, former Ole Miss student Graeme Phillip Harris, and a nameless third student draped the flag and noose around the statue. Harris admitted to a similar charge last year and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Edenfield’s guilty plea may have lessened his possible prison time, reports The Oxford Eagle. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. He will be sentenced on July 21.
The government is asking for leniency and probation due to Edenfield’s cooperation in the investigation.