Leaders of Virginia Military Institute said Tuesday that the school will keep its Confederate statues and consider adding more historical context in the aftermath of last month’s violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
At a VMI board of visitors meeting Tuesday, VMI Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay III defended the school’s traditions while declaring that “there’s no place for discrimination” at the state-supported military college. The school, founded in Lexington before the outbreak of the Civil War, has continually evolved since it was racially integrated in 1968, Peay said.
Other vestiges of the school’s Confederate ties — such as battle flags, the playing of “Dixie” and cadet salutes to a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson — already have been phased out, the superintendent said.
“We are a different school,” Peay told the board. “And we build on the strengths of our traditions, the right traditions, the right statues, the right … ceremonies that we have to make our graduates stronger and better for a nation that needs to move to the future and advance in a right way. That’s my thinking, ladies and gentlemen. And I don’t think I’m being politically correct.”
The announcement by VMI put Lt. Governor Ralph Northam at odds with the alma mater he routinely references on the campaign trail. In a statement, Northam gave no indication he would press the issue at VMI if elected governor.
“As I have said before, I believe local communities, including the VMI community, need to make these decisions for themselves,” Northam said. “While I personally think that these statues belong in a museum with appropriate historical context, I respect the decision of the institute.”
The Gillespie campaign and other Republicans reacted to the VMI news by pointing to Northam’s previous pledge to do “everything” in his authority to remove statues at the state level.
Members of the VMI board are appointed by the Governor.
Speaking to WFIR last month, Northam said, “I will do everything that I can, that I have authority to do to remove the statues at the state level.”