Ole Miss Student Drops Charges Against Anti-Segregationist Artist
The charges of obscenity and desecrating the Confederate flag filed against G. Ray Kerciu, an assistant professor of art at the University of Mississippi, have been dropped, apparently after a deal between Kerciu's lawyer and Charles G. Blackwell, the Ole Miss law school senior who made them.
John Perkins, incoming managing editor of The Mississippian, said in a telephone conversation last night that Blackwell told him Kerciu had agreed through his attorney not to show any more paintings in Mississippi if Blackwell dropped his charges.
"Kerciu just grinned when I asked him about the deal," Perkins said. Kerciu's lawyer, former assistant federal federal district attorney Lowell Grisham, refused comment on Blackwell's report of a deal.
In his statement Thursday announcing that he had dropped his complaint against Kerciu, Blackwell said he thought it should not be pressed because Kerciu, a 29-year-old native of Michigan, was probably unaware of Mississippi's laws and customs.
Blackwell's charges referred to Kerciu's painting "America the Beautiful," a six-foot wide canvas of a Confederate battle flag smeared with the slogans of the rioters who tried to stop the admission of James Meredith to Ole Miss last September.
The slogans Kerciu quotes are blunt. "A good nigger is a dead nigger," one reads. Beside it is printed: "WOULD YOU WANT YOUR SISTER TO MARRY ONE." Beneath this appears: "Impeach JFK," "Back Ross," and Yankee go home." Near the slogans are the names of the Segregationist Citizens Council, and the Patriotic Youth of America (PAY).
Blackwell, who belongs to three chapters of the Citizens Council, is a former state president of PAY. Now 24 years old, he is a candidate for the state legislature in the August 6 Democratic primary.
Kerciu's "America the Beautiful" was part of an exhibition of about 40 of his works which opened April 1 in the Ole Miss Fine Arts Center. University Provost Charles Noyes removed it and four other paintings April 7 after receiving protests from the Mississippi Citizens Council and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Noyes said the painting's "slighting attitude toward the Confederate flag. . . gave distress and offense to many."
Blackwell entered his complaint that the painting violated Mississippi law on April 9. "As past state chairman of the Patriotic American Youth," he said then, "I consider the mention of this anti-communist organization among such vile words and phrases as derogatory."
"The desecration of a Confederate flag by covering it with obscene and indecent words should bring every Mississipian to his feet," he declared.
During the riot of September 30 Blackwell was a member of the state National Guard unit surrounding the Ole Miss Administrative building. While entering the campus he was struck by a rock hurled by the segregationist rioters.
After Blackwell made his charges, Kerciu told a Mississippian reporter that the paintings were "only recordings of things. I've seen and heard on campus."
"I haven't made up any of these things," he continued. "Now all the people seem unwilling to admit that they made these statements. It's not my statement, it's theirs."
The charges against Kerciu, which carry maximum penalties of $600 and six months imprisonment, also provoked a unanimous statement by the Ole Miss chapter of the American Association of University Professors defending Kerciu and assailing the Ole Miss administration for not supporting him.
The AAUP asked the administration to instruct the university attorney to handle Kerciu's case. Although the university requested the State College Board to appoint a special attorney to defend Kercui, the Board had not acted when Blackwell dropped his charges.
Kerciu, who has a one-year contract to teach at Ole Miss, is expected to leave Mississippi in June, as he had planned previously