A Black VMI Cadet Was Threatened With A Lynching, Then With ExpulsionBreaking News
tags: racism, Virginia, VMI
The intercom boomed in the predawn hour of Hell Week at the Virginia Military Institute, and a group of upperclassmen slammed open the doors to the freshman barracks rooms. It was time for a morning run. Rafael Jenkins, a prized VMI basketball recruit, said he threw on his gym clothes and hydration pack, then grabbed his “Rat Bible,” a booklet of campus rules, rituals and history.
As the 19-year-old cadet waited in the hallway to use the bathroom that August day in 2018, the group of upperclassmen shouted more orders.
Sound off, they yelled.
Jenkins and the other first-year “rats” at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college knew what they had to do. They had to open the Rat Bible, flip to the page listing the 10 VMI students killed fighting for the Confederacy at the Battle of New Market and shout the full names of the slain cadets, their ranks and home states.
At first, Jenkins, who is Black and Hispanic, chanted their names softly. He’d yelled them earlier in Hell Week — VMI’s grueling initiation for new students — to avoid confrontations, but now the ritual seemed too racist to countenance. Why, he thought, should anyone glorify those who fought and died for slavery? So, he chugged from his hydration pack, assuming the upperclass enforcers wouldn’t stop him from drinking water.
Then a White sophomore Jenkins didn’t know saw what he was doing. The cadet got up in his face and said firmly into his ear: “Jenkins, if you don’t sound off, I’m going to lynch you … and use your dead corpse as a punching bag.”
“I looked at him, and then he looked at me, and his eyes got real big,” Jenkins recalled, describing the incident publicly for the first time. “Then he took off.”
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