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Virginia Military Institute To Keep Confederate Statues

| by Selena Darlim

The Virginia Military Institute will not remove three Confederate statues from its campus, but may consider adding "more historical context" to them, the college's board of directors announced at a Sept. 12 meeting.

VMI was founded in Lexington, Virginia, before the Civil War began, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The school has multiple historical ties to the Confederate movement, such as being the former teaching place of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

The college has phased out several of its traditions as times have changed. Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay III remarked that VMI no longer has battle flags, has stopped playing the Confederate anthem, "Dixie," and doesn't require cadets to salute to Jackson's statue.

The removal of that statue was never brought into as serious consideration as when protests erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, after a white nationalist rally to keep a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led to mass confrontation and the death of one counter-protester. Since the protest, debates about whether to remove Confederate monuments have popped up around the country.

Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe expressed his own opinion that Confederate statues should be moved to museums, but ultimately left the decision of whether to remove them up to cities and counties, with the exception of removing war memorials. VMI represented a special case in which the decision to remove or leave monuments was left up to the college's governing board, which is appointed by the state's governor.

In a statement released by the school on Sept. 12 and reported by WSET, the VMI board of visitors reaffirmed VMI's mission as an historical military college:

VMI's mission is to produce educated, honorable cadets and graduates imbued with characteristics and traits long admired by our great Nation. We produce leaders of character who are prepared and ready to serve our communities, our states, and our Nation in times of peace and in times of war. That is our singular objective.

The statement acknowledged VMI's Confederate history, saying the ideas it represented in the past do not represent what the college stands for today. It stated that "hate, bigotry and discrimination are wrong" and that those issues will be "addressed decisively," concluding:

We will continue to learn from our history, yet be ultimately guided by our best judgment in how to achieve our mission. The safety of our cadets, faculty and staff, our Post and our community is always present in our mind. That is why, today, the VMI Board of Visitors endorses continuing to acknowledge all those who are part of the history of the Institute. We choose not to honor their weaknesses, but to recognize their strengths. We will continue to learn and not to repeat divisions. We strongly encourage all to move forward together in the defense and advancement of our Nation.

The superintendent echoed a similar sentiment of honoring the school's history while acknowledging its faults at the board meeting on Sept. 12.

"We are a different school," Peay said in a reference to the school's past. "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."

Peay stated that he didn't think he was "being politically correct."

John William Boland, president of the VMI board of visitors, said he "wholeheartedly agrees" with Peay and other board members. He suggested adding a plaque to acknowledge VMI Civil War cadets who fought for the Union Army.

In addition to a statue of Jackson, the other two statues that will remain at VMI are the New Market Monument -- which honors fallen Confederate cadets and is the resting place of six of them -- and the statue of the school's first superintendent, Francis H. Smith, who was a Confederate Army colonel.

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