The U.S. Naval Academy has opened an investigation after an employee reported on Aug. 28 a possible noose in the school’s engineering building. (Courtesy of Carl Snowden)

Leaders at the U.S. Naval Academy have launched an investigation after an employee reported a noose was hung in the school’s engineering building on Aug. 28, the 56th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington.

Officials at the military school in Annapolis didn’t find out about the alleged incident until about a week later, on Friday, Jenny Erickson, a Naval Academy spokeswoman, said in an email.

A photo shows what appears to be a rope tied into a noose and hung in an off-limits construction zone in Rickover Hall, Vice Adm. Sean Buck, the Naval Academy superintendent, said in a statement.

Buck said the rope could have been part of the construction site. Rickover Hall is undergoing “significant” ceiling work that includes new ductwork and piping.

“While there is a possibility for the alleged noose to have been part of a hoisting system to complete this ductwork, the academy takes all allegations of race hate very seriously, and is working quickly and diligently to determine the facts surrounding the reported incident, specifically why the reported incident was not brought to light sooner,” Buck said.

Carl Snowden, a civil rights leader in Annapolis, said he received a photo of the alleged noose from an anonymous sender in August.

Snowden commended Buck and the academy for opening an investigation. Buck, a Trump administration appointee, started his term as superintendent in July.

“This is really the first opportunity we’ll see how the Naval Academy handles an issue that has racial overtones,” Snowden said. “I think they’re taking it seriously.”

The academy’s investigation was announced one day before a marker to commemorate the lynchings of at least five black men in Anne Arundel County was unveiled in downtown Annapolis. The Naval Academy is in the central part of the county.

“Anne Arundel County has a history of racial intolerance,” Snowden said. “The marker represents an unvarnished and unfiltered truth.”

The men — Henry Davis, John Sims, George Briscoe, Wright Smith and King Johnson — were snatched up by white mobs while they were on their way to jail or awaiting trial behind bars.

“The majority of them were accused of assaulting white women,” Snowden said.

Davis, who died in 1906 on the campus of St. John’s College in Annapolis, was hanged and shot more than 100 times, Snowden said. A picture of his mutilated body was imprinted on postcards that were sold.

The Naval Academy’s investigation comes at a time when incidents of hate are on the rise in Anne Arundel County. The number of hate- and bias-related crimes increased 34 percent — from 47 to 63 — from 2016 to 2017, according to data from Maryland State Police. Schools have regularly been the targets of nooses, swastikas and other hateful symbols.

At Chesapeake Bay Middle School, about 20 miles southeast of Baltimore by car, two nooses — one made out of toilet paper and another made from a sweatshirt drawstring — were hung in a two-month span, the Capital Gazette reported in December. The month before, fliers promoting the Ku Klux Klan were distributed in neighborhoods in northern Anne Arundel County.

“Given the fact that in Anne Arundel County we have had a series of nooses at the schools and within the community, you have to take it seriously,” Snowden said about the Naval Academy.

Other universities in the Washington region have contended with racist episodes on their campuses.

Posters bearing the Confederate battle flag and chunks of cotton were found almost two years ago on American University’s campus in Northwest Washington. At least 10 posters were discovered at a handful of locations on campus. Those posters appeared just months after bananas were found hanging from strings in the shape of nooses at the university.

At George Washington University, a sorority apologized in 2018 for a “racist image” that a member posted on Snapchat. The post showed two young women, a banana and a caption referencing race.