Anthony Hervey was on his way home to Oxford, Miss., when the car carrying him and fellow activist Arlene Barnum swerved off the road and flipped over several times.
Hervey, 49, was killed in the crash Sunday, which also landed 60-year-old Barnum in the hospital. And several details of the wreck have drawn interest from far beyond the grassy shoulder of a state highway outside Oxford.
First, Hervey was a Confederate flag supporter on his way back from a rally in support of a Confederate monument in Birmingham, Ala.
Second, he was black.
Third, Barnum — who owned the SUV Hervey had been driving and was sitting in the passenger seat when it crashed — has said that the car rolled over after Hervey swerved to avoid another vehicle carrying four or five young black men, who pulled up alongside them and yelled angrily at the pair.
Hervey yelled something back at the men, then lost control of the car and crashed, Barnum told the Associated Press.
“It spun like crazy and we flipped, flipped, flipped. It was awful,” she said. Barnum told the news agency that her car did not display any Confederate flags or stickers.
Speaking to the New York Times, Master Sgt. Ray Hall of the Mississippi Highway Patrol said that the accident was being investigated and no further information would be available until reconstruction specialists reviewed the evidence. Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy, reached by The Washington Post, confirmed that Hervey had died in the wreck but declined to answer further questions. Neither has said whether another car was involved in the crash.
Hervey, a Mississippi native and author of the 2006 book “Why I Wave the Confederate Flag, Written by a Black Man: The End of N—-rism and the Welfare State,” was a controversial fixture in Oxford. He often paraded around the city and the nearby University of Mississippi campus dressed in Confederate regalia and waving the battle flag, according to the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Hervey “leaves a legacy as bizarre as his public persona,” in the newspaper’s words.
Hervey gained a national spotlight in 2000, when he began staging protests at the Ole Miss campus to protest the removal of the Confederate flag from atop the capitol dome of the South Carolina statehouse. (After decades above the capitol dome, the flag that was taken down in the wake of the killings at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., was flown above a Confederate memorial on the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia beginning in 2000 after legislative compromise was reached.)
When a Chicago Tribune reporter working on a travel story about the “Civil Rights Trail” stopped in Oxford, he ran into Hervey, who sat at the base of the town’s Confederate monument clad in a gray wool uniform and draped in the Confederate flag.
“I think it’s appalling what took place in South Carolina,” Hervey told the Tribune reporter in 2000. “They have the right to wave that flag — and it’s my moral duty to stand up and say it.”
He added, “And we’re telling the world that we’re not a bunch of darkies spitting out watermelon seeds — which is what a lot of Northerners feel we are.”
Later that year, as Mississippi debated changing its state flag — which features the familiar blue cross and red background in its upper left-hand corner — Hervey took his campaign to the state capitol. He said he marched not just for the flag, but also for the black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.
“This is not racism. This is my heritage,” Hervey said in 2001, as Mississippians voted to retain the disputed flag. He said support for the rebel banner was akin to “standing up for home.”
Sparky Reardon, the now-retired dean of students at Ole Miss, recalled Hervey as a familiar and fiery figure on campus.
“I’d step off onto the porch, he’d see me and then would just tear off into me,” he told the Clarion-Ledger. “I mean, he’d really get after me. But, I’d see him afterward and it would be friendly.”
His presence challenged the speech policy on campus, according to Reardon. Initially Hervey was arrested for extending his protest beyond the school’s “free speech zones” — but the public university eventually moved to take down those restrictions, effectively making the whole campus a “free speech zone.”
“Anthony probably was our first real experience with true freedom of speech,” Reardon said. “He challenged us and we had to reconsider some things.”
Hervey’s unusual protests were known for devolving into heated arguments, and, in at least one case, a physical altercation. According to the Clarion-Ledger, Hervey was once escorted by police out of a public meeting on the Mississippi state flag after becoming unruly. A white reporter for the student-run Daily Mississippian who had been assigned to cover Hervey said the older man punched him in the face during an attempted interview. The two filed competing assault charges against one another, according to an AP story from the time — ultimately, both were withdrawn.
“He was a master at street theater,” Reardon told the Clarion-Ledger. “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.”
During the first presidential debate of the 2008 election cycle, when Barack Obama and John McCain sparred at the University of Mississippi, Hervey stood outside the Lafayette County Courthouse, proudly waving, as always, a Confederate flag. Beside him was a placard that read “Not the Black Man, Nor the White Man, But the Right Man,” and a stack of his books for sale.
Calling himself a “black redneck,” he told an AP reporter that he supported McCain because he was against social programs like affirmative action.
“White gifts, affirmative action, lowering the admission standards to get into college, is insulting. It’s degrading,” he said.
“I show that the Civil War was not fought over slavery and that the demise of my race in America is not of the white man, but rather of our own making,” reads the blurb on the book’s back cover. “In this book I show how blacks in America ran away from physical bondage to one far worse — mental bondage.”
When the Confederate flag again came under attack this summer in the wake of the mass shooting in Charleston, Hervey threw himself into the effort to keep the controversial banner aloft. On Saturday, he spoke at a rally in favor of keeping a disputed Confederate monument in a Birmingham park.
“I’m no fair weather friend” of the flag, he told the crowd of about 100. “I’m with my heritage. I’m with my love for my people.”
Hervey and Barnum, who is also black and joined Hervey at the rally, were on their way back from Birmingham when their car crashed Sunday.
Some online onlookers speculated that Hervey’s death was “suspicious.”
Meanwhile Reardon, who viewed Hervey with affectionate respect despite their disagreement, mourned the 49-year-old activist as a friend.
“It was a shock and pain when I learned he’d been killed,” he said. “As contentious as it might have seemed, Anthony and I really had a great relationship.”