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Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after Black cadets describe overt racism

Black cadets who were first-year students were forced to salute a statue of Stonewall Jackson.

On Monday (Oct. 26), the superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) resigned following an investigation into “a culture of ongoing structural racism” at the school, according to state leaders.

General J.H. Binford Peay III, who led VMI since 2003, turned in his resignation letter after several Black students and alumni accused the school of overt racism. “It has been the honor of my life to be the Superintendent of VMI for over seventeen years. I always have and always will love the Institute, all of our cadets, alumni and the entire VMI family,” Peay wrote in his resignation letter.

The Roanoke Times and The Washington Post shared detailed incidents of those allegations. Former students of the military school say the white cadets were openly racist and made them participate in a Civil War reenactment. First-year students had to salute a statue of Stonewall Jackson — a former VMI professor, slaveholder and Confederate general. In 2017, several white cadets dressed up in boxes to represent the border wall as a racist act against Mexicans.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, State Senate President Louise Lucas and Delegate Lamont Bagby wrote a letter to VMI’s governing Board of Visitors. They said that the school continues to cherish the Confederacy and “an inaccurate and dangerous ‘Lost Cause’ version of Virginia’s history.”

“It is long past time to consign these relics to the dustbin of history,” the letter said. “This culture is unacceptable for any Virginia institution in the 21st century, especially one funded by taxpayers.”

Fairfax issued a response to Peay’s resignation in a statement Monday. He expressed his hope for the institution’s future. “The departure of one person does not fix a systemic problem we must confront in a comprehensive manner,” he wrote. “We cannot continue to pretend that racism directed at African American cadets are singular incidents disconnected from a culture of longstanding systemic racism.”

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