Virginia Military Institute will remove Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s name from campus buildings as part of its ongoing effort to foster a more inclusive environment.
The nation’s oldest state-supported military college has been making progress on addressing diversity over the past year following allegations of racism and an ensuing independent investigation into the culture at VMI.
VMI’s Board of Visitors met Saturday and voted to remove Jackson’s name from the front of the Old Barracks and from Memorial Hall and directed a committee to determine potential new names before the next board meeting in September.
On a stoop of the Old Barracks there is a quote attributed to Jackson that reads, “You may be whatever you resolve to be.” The board voted to remove that attribution and install a plaque inside the arch that attributes the quote to William Alcott and the Rev. Joel Hawes, who included the quotation in publications in 1834 and 1851, respectively. The plaque will also include a statement that Jackson, a former professor at VMI, included the quote in his book of maxims.
Additionally, the board voted to preserve a large mural in Memorial Hall that depicts VMI cadets charging in the New Market Battlefield, where 10 VMI cadets died fighting for the Confederacy. The VMI Museum will work on developing context for the mural. The oil painting by artist and 1880 VMI graduate Benjamin West Clinedinst is 18 feet by 23 feet, and it was unveiled in 1914.
A sculpture on the grounds called “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” will also have its symbolism expanded beyond honoring the cadets who fought at New Market to cadets who died in all war and military conflicts since the college’s founding in 1839. The sculpture is of a female figure representing Virginia, sitting on the remains of a fortress, her foot resting on broken cannons overgrown with ivy. The remains of several young men who died in the battle are set inside the foundation of the sculpture.
Moses Ezekiel, an 1866 VMI graduate and member of the New Market Corps, created the sculpture. It was dedicated in 1903.
A law firm is in the middle of conducting an independent investigation into the culture at VMI, with an emphasis on race. The Roanoke Times first published a story last June recounting the experiences of Black alumni, and their request that the college take down the statue of Jackson, which cadets had to salute or be punished up until a few years ago.
The investigation, ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI alum, is expected to be completed next month.
VMI removed the statue of Jackson from campus in December. Last month, VMI named Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins as its first Black superintendent, and he has said he wants to prioritize ensuring the community is diverse and inclusive so all cadets are comfortable at VMI. Kasey Meredith will be the first woman to lead the Corps of Cadets as regimental commander for the 2021-22 school year.