The Virginia Military Institute will not remove Confederate statues and building names from its campus, the school’s superintendent announced Wednesday.
Retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III addressed the campus community in a letter and said that the school founded in 1839 has a past that “has been intertwined with the history of Virginia and the Civil War.”
“Unlike many communities who are grappling with icons of the past, VMI has direct ties to many of the historical figures that are the subject of the current unrest,” Peay wrote.
One of those figures is Stonewall Jackson, who is displayed as a statue on campus. He was a professor at VMI and fought in the Mexican War before becoming a Confederate general.
“Throughout the years, the primary focus on honoring VMI’s history has been to celebrate principles of honor, integrity, character, courage, service, and selflessness of those associated with the Institute,” Peay wrote.
“It is not to in anyway condone racism, much less slavery.”
The announcement comes as many institutions, cities and states grapple with calls to remove Confederate statues, monuments and street names.
The latest calls came in the midst of protests in response to the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for roughly nine minutes during an arrest.
VMI’s superintendent said that he made the decision after “considerable waking hours trying to make sense of the turmoil and pain we have seen nationally.”
“We are living in a unique time in the history of our country that has undoubtedly affected each of us in different ways,” Peay wrote.
“I believe we all agree we want to erase any hint of racism at VMI, in our communities, and in our country.”
He added that he had spoken with some African-American cadets and alumni who told him their experience at the school “did not live up to the standards that it should have.”
“I am committed to addressing and fixing any areas of racial inequality at our school,” he wrote.
The superintendent unveiled a plan to make several changes “to include and highlight more of the Institute’s history.”
These changes include moving the tall parade ground flagpoles to the New Barracks, signaling VMI’s move to the future, and changing the location of the Cadet Oath ceremony.
The oath ceremony used to take place on the New Market battlefield, where a group of VMI cadets fought for the Confederacy, and involved a re-enactment of the battle.
“Hate, bigotry and discrimination are wrong, do not represent the values of the Virginia Military Institute, and will always be addressed decisively,” Peay wrote.
“We will learn from the past and take the best from our predecessors in shaping our cadet citizen-soldiers for today and tomorrow.”
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