Virginia Military Institute will not remove Confederate monuments, names

The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) said the school will not remove Confederate monuments or rename buildings named after Confederate leaders, according to a seven-page letter released this week.

“We do not currently intend to remove any VMI statues or rename any VMI buildings,” Retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay wrote in a July 29 letter to the school’s community.

Peay said that officials agree that “we want to erase any hint of racism at VMI, in our communities, and in our country,” but that the school has a past “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,” he also wrote. 

For example, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who is depicted in a campus statue, was a “professor at VMI, a West Point graduate who served in combat” in the Mexican-American War and was a “military genius,” Peay added.

Peay also noted that he is “committed to addressing and fixing any areas of racial inequality at our school,” which was founded ahead of the Civil War in 1839 in Lexington, Va.

“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.”

Peay said he made the decision after “considerable waking hours trying to make sense of the turmoil and pain we have seen nationally” in the midst of protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while in custody of Minneapolis police officers. 

The decision seems to run counter to the city the school is nestled in. Lexington City Council earlier this month held meetings to discuss renaming the city-owned cemetery named after Jackson. The council has so far voted to remove signs bearing Jackson’s name. 

And at Washington and Lee, across the street from VMI, faculty voted on July 6 to pull Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from the university.

Floyd’s death, which has sparked calls for racial equality across the country, has also prompted the Pentagon to release a new policy that would ban the display of the Confederate battle flag at military installations. 

In addition, both the House and Senate last week passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require the Pentagon to rename bases and other property that are named after Confederate leaders. The Senate bill would require changes in three years, while the House bill would force changes in one year.

The House and Senate now must form a conference committee to work out differences between the two versions of the bill, though the requirement to rename bases is seen as highly unlikely to be taken out of the bill as both versions include some form of the potential rule. 

President Trump, however, has threatened to veto the NDAA if the final version that reaches his desk requires name changes, with the White House saying in a statement last week the provision is “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.”

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