School banned vehicles from entering on Monday, as work started.
LEXINGTON-No vehicles could enter the Virginia Military Institute Monday. School officials blocked visitors from entering VMI for one large construction project, as they started moving the Stonewall Jackson statue to its new home.
The statue, which stood in front of VMI’s barracks for more than 100 years, will now go to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. It was part of the controversy that plagued the school this year, as Black cadets and alumni talked with the Roanoke Times and Washington Post about disturbing incidents. They told of a place where lynching threats occured and faculty spoke openly about praising the Confederacy, alledging that racism was commonplace.
Up until 2015, cadets also had to salute Jackson as they walked by, which some found offensive as he served with the Confederacy and fought the Union. Now people see the statue as a monument to the Confederacy, a part of the school’s past that leaders want to move on from. During their Oct. 29 meeting, the school’s Board of Visitors decided to send the statue to New Market and the museum there.
VMI Director of Communications Bill Wyatt said it will cost the school $209,000 to move the bronze statue. That money will be taken out of VMI’s facility maintenance and operations account. Workers removed the statue itself on Monday. Over the next few days, they’ll repair the stone pedestal it was on before taking the statue to New Market. Even once that happens, there’s still a lot of work ahead. The plan is to install it in the roundabout in front of the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Work will take at least until next summer, if not longer.
School Moves Forward
The statue’s been at VMI for more than 100 years. Sculptor and Class of 1866 member Sir Moses Ezekiel gave it to the school in 1912. The Richmond-born Ezekiel had served with the Confederacy at the Battle of New Market.
In a statement to media, Interim Superintendent Major Gen. Cedric Wins said he understood the strong opinions on both sides when it came to relocating the statue.
“The history of VMI over the past 181 years is well documented, “ Wins said. “Stonewall Jackson’s ties to Lexington and the Institute as an instructor are part of that history. [But] VMI does not define itself by this statue and that is why this move is appropriate. We are defined by our unique system of education and the quality and character of the graduates the Institute produces.”
The 34-year military veteran, himself a 1985 graduate of VMI, took over in November from Gen. Peay, who resigned in the wake of the allegations. Now Wins has to lead the school during an investigation. Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans for the investigation in November, getting $1 million from the General Assembly to hire an independent third-party to look into the school’s culture.
The goal will be to compare VMI’s culture to other Virginia universities, with a report due by the end of the year. That way the General Assembly can review the information and take action as needed in the 2021 session.
Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].