Virginia Military Institute Begins 12-Step Racist Recovery, Removes Stonewall Jackson Statue
The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) has taken the first step in its thousand-mile journey to correct a shameful history of systemic racism. Monday, the public military college began work on removing the statue of noted white supremacist traitor Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a general on the losing side of the Civil War.
A crew was preparing to haul away the statue, which cadets were expected to salute until several years ago. I presume they finally figured out the statue wasn't alive.
The Stonewall Jackson statue was cancelled after the Washington Post published a story in October detailing the school's gross and pervasive "atmosphere of hostility and cultural insensitivity." This included lynching threats and a professor, E. Susan Kellogg, who liked to share with students her father's youthful escapades with the KKK.
"KKK parties were the best parties ever, they had candy, clowns, games, and meetings were held there," Kellogg told the class, according to a memo that [2019 VMI grad Keniya] Lee wrote three days afterward and that she later delivered to administrators and posted on Twitter in June.
Lee, a Black 2019 VMI grad, didn't enjoy the “How I Met Your Klansman" series and lodged a complaint against Kellogg, who claimed she lacked “perspective." (Gotta also think that “uppity" came up at least once.)
The Post expose led to the much-deserved quit-firing of VMI's superintendent, retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, who had resisted removing monuments honoring racists even after the renewed debate following George Floyd's murder. (Selective) history must be preserved!
"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. Stonewall Jackson was a professor at VMI, a West Point graduate who served in combat in the Mexican War, a military genius, a staunch Christian, and yes, a Confederate General," Peay wrote in July.
"Confederate general" — not to mention “owner" of humans — should immediately disqualify him from any position of honor. He's a traitor. There are no US memorials to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
After Peay was given the heave-ho, VMI brought on retired US Army Major General Cedric Wins as interim superintendent. Wins is the first Black person to serve in the role. He's also less enthralled with old “Stonewall."
Wins said in a statement Monday that "it is an understatement to say the relocation of the statue has evoked strong opinions on both sides of the issue."
"The history of VMI over the past 181 years is well documented. Stonewall Jackson's ties to Lexington and the Institute as an instructor are part of that history," Wins said. But "VMI does not define itself by this statue and that is why this move is appropriate," he added.
VMI will relocate the statue to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park. I'd prefer a junkyard, but this is a fair compromise.
While VMI acknowledges this is the 21st Century, Donald Trump is still clinging to the notion the South shall rise again. President Klan Robe has vowed to veto a defense spending bill because it will also rechristen 10 Army installations currently named after Confederate generals. We can appreciate that the Queens-born Trump has a personal affinity for traitors, but people whose bone spurs didn't prevent them from actually serving in the military support the change.
Trump probably identifies with “Stonewall" Jackson's statue, as both are racist relics whose time is coming to an end.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."