By Clay Chandler at The Clarion-Ledger
Anthony Hervey, a 49-year-old black man who spent several years parading around Oxford and Ole Miss in a Confederate uniform and waving the battle flag, died in a car accident Sunday.
He leaves a legacy as bizarre as his public persona. He forced Mississippi’s flagship university to rethink its free speech policies. He was also charged with assault after an altercation with a student journalist.
Hervey had already established himself as a supporter of the Confederate battle flag before the fall of 2000, but the period’s debate over the state flag, when a commission barnstormed the state to take the populace’s temperature on whether the banner needed changing, considerably raised his profile.
The commission’s meetings often degenerated into shouted insults and threats. Hervey became so unruly at a forum in Jackson, Capitol Police had to escort him out of the room
That’s the Hervey Sparky Reardon encountered at Ole Miss. Reardon, the university’s former dean of students who recently retired, was one of Hervey’s favorite targets during his demonstrations in front of the Union.
“I’d step off onto the porch, he’d see me and then would just tear off into me,” Reardon said. “I mean, he’d really get after me. But, I’d see him afterward and it would be friendly.”
Before Hervey’s near-daily outbursts, Ole Miss designated a handful of areas on campus as “free speech zones,” where university officials and law enforcement preferred demonstrators do their demonstrating. Hervey expanded his performances beyond those zones, which is when the trouble started. He and a sidekick were arrested a few times, and charged with disturbing the peace.
“Anthony probably was our first real experience with true freedom of speech,” Reardon said. “He challenged us and we had to reconsider some things. For years we had been reticent to put up with those kind of things. So when he came along, we started looking at it and we realized we had an obligation to the First Amendment to allow him to do that. We mistakenly called it a free speech area; and it really should never have been called that, because the whole campus should be called that.”
The shift in policy earned Ole Miss the state’s first “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that monitors free speech issues at U.S. institutions for higher learning.
Reardon and Hervey rehashed that last week, Reardon said, when the two bumped into each other at an Oxford coffee shop. Hervey’s intensity about the state flag had not dimmed. (He was returning from a pro-flag rally in Birmingham when the Ford Explorer he was driving flipped on Highway 6 near the Pontotoc-Lafayette county line.)
Blake Aued’s interactions with Hervey never reached the friendly part. Aued, opinion editor for the student-run Daily Mississippian from 2000-2001, ended up the journalist most responsible for covering Hervey. One of his stories brought into question some of Hervey’s academic credentials. Hervey took exception.
He started demonstrating in front of Farley Hall, whose basement housed the DM’s newsroom. He made Aued, whose columns leading up to the 2001 flag vote were decidedly for changing Mississippi’s banner, the target of many a rant. “I was assigned to do a story about him and kind of look into his background,” said Aued, now the news editor at Flagpole Magazine in Athens, Georgia. “I interviewed him and found out he’d been lying about some degrees he had. He wasn’t happy about it. He’d yell at me every time I saw him. I remember we had extra (law enforcement) patrols around the newsroom.”
Things came to a head during one of Hervey’s frequent appearances on Oxford’s Square, when Aued said Hervey summoned him, ostensibly to discuss the pair’s conflict. When he got within reach, Aued said, Hervey’s brother grabbed him around the throat. Right after that, Hervey started punching Aued in the face and head.
“I can’t remember if I called the cops or somebody else did,” Aued said. “A cop shows up and Anthony tells him I walked up to him, called him the “N” word and started punching him in the face, which of course is absurd.”
Aued filed assault charges. Hervey responded in kind. Authorities closed the case when Aued and Hervey withdrew their complaints.
That wouldn’t be Hervey’s last run-in with the law. He and a woman an indictment listed as his wife were among 17 people charged in Chicago in 2003 with student loan fraud. Federal Bureau of Prisons records show Hervey as released from custody in December 2006.
His death is proving as eventful as his life. A passenger in the Explorer wrote on her Facebook page that Hervey was trying to evade a car he thought was following them when they left the road. A separate Facebook page emerged Monday, that called on authorities to find the pursuing vehicle. The Mississippi Highway Patrol has released few details while an accident reconstruction team investigates the incident.
“He was a master at street theater,” Reardon said. “He and some of the evangelical preachers we’ve had here really know how to draw a crowd and provoke a crowd. He wasn’t prejudiced. He made everybody mad. It was a shock and pain when I learned he’d been killed. As contentious as it might have seemed, Anthony and I really had a great relationship. It took a black man in a confederate uniform to get us to reconsider where we were and I think we’re a much better campus now because of it.”
Schools: University of Mississippi