VMI to remove Confederate statue following accusations of racism

The school initially refused to take down the monument of the slave owner who joined the Confederate Army

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The Virginia Military Institute will remove a prominent statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson amid an investigation into ongoing “structural racism” at the oldest state-run military college.

The administration initially refused to take down the statue of the slave owner who taught at VMI before joining the Confederate Army. But the Board of Visitors unanimously voted for its removal on Thursday, according to the Washington Post. Three of VMI’s 17 board members are Black.

The board’s decision follows a Change.org petition launched by graduate Kaleb Tucker, calling for the school to “acknowledge the racism and black prejudice that still occurs at VMI” and remove the statue of Jackson. 

Read More: Black contractor braves threats in removing Confederate statues in Richmond

“There has been story on top of story of racism and black prejudice within the walls of the institute. However VMI has not once acknowledged allegations nor has there been any just punishment to the doers of this racism and black prejudice,” Tucker wrote in the petition. 

When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) caught word of allegations of racism against former and current Black cadets, which were made public in a Washington Post article, he ordered an independent investigation into “the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at the Virginia Military Institute.”

Retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, VMI’s superintendent, defended the statue of Jackson in a July letter to the school community, calling the general a “military genius” and a “staunch Christian.” But Peay also noted that he wanted to “erase any hint of racism at VMI.”

Peay reportedly resigned a week after Gov. Northam announced the investigation.

Read More: Charlottesville tears down Confederate statue outside courthouse

The school allegedly fosters an atmosphere of cultural insensitivity, where the leaders celebrate the slaveholding South during the Civil War.

“I wake up every day wondering, ‘Why am I still here?’ ” said William Bunton, 20, a Black senior from Portsmouth, Va. 

It is unclear where the statue of Jackson will go but it may be transferred to the New Market Civil War battlefield.

The statue was erected in 1912 and up until a few years ago, students allegedly had to salute it when they passed. Blacks make up about 8 percent of VMI’s 1,700 students, according to the report. 

“It’s time to move forward,” said board’s chairman, John “Bill” Boland. [The monument] was drawing a lot of fire and distracting from what our true mission is. The most important thing to me is to maintain our mission and our methods.”

VMI reportedly received $19 million in state funds this past fiscal year.

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