A construction worker on the campus in Oxford reported seeing two men wrapping the bronze figure in an old Georgia state flag bearing the Confederate logo, according to University Police Chief Calvin Sellers. The vandals were also heard shouting racial slurs, Sellers said.
Campus police are working with local law enforcement and the FBI to locate the suspects after the incident early on Sunday, and authorities plan to pursue federal hate crime charges, Sellers said on Tuesday.
"If you did this to intimidate or even if intimidation was perceived from people that saw it, and certainly our African-American students would perceive it as that, then it's a hate crime," Sellers said.
The incident has sparked frustration, anger and fatigue at the university known as Ole Miss, which is still struggling to overcome its racially tumultuous past, a school spokesman said.