Northam Calls for VMI Investigation after Black Cadets Describe Relentless Racism

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tags: racism, Confederacy, Virginia Military Institute, Lost Cause

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered an investigation into the culture at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday after Black cadets and alumni described relentless racism at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college.

The governor, who graduated in VMI’s Class of 1981, co-wrote a letter to the college’s Board of Visitors informing it that the state will fund an independent probe into the school’s treatment of its Black students.

His action followed a Washington Post story detailing a lynching threat, Klan reminiscences and Confederacy veneration at the Lexington school, whose cadets fought and died for the slaveholding South during the Civil War.

The letter — signed by Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), and several House and Senate leaders, including Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), the chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus — said the state is directing an “independent, third-party review” of what officials called “the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at the Virginia Military Institute.”


Black cadets make up about 8 percent of VMI’s 1,700 students. The school, which was founded in 1839 and became the last public college in Virginia to integrate in 1968, received nearly $19 million in state funds this past fiscal year.

The campus’s main Parade Ground features two statues of enslavers — Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who taught at VMI, and the school’s first superintendent, Francis H. Smith, who believed Black people should be resettled in Africa. Until a few years ago, freshmen were required to salute the Jackson statue, which sits in front of the student barracks.

In The Post article, Black students and alumni described an atmosphere of hostility and cultural insensitivity. One Black woman, who graduated in the Class of 2019, filed a complaint against her White business professor who reminisced in class about her father’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan — and how they had “the best parties ever.”

Read entire article at Washington Post

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