The superintendent of Virginia Military Institute, the country’s oldest state-funded military college, resigned Monday morning after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and other top-elected officials called for an independent investigation into the school’s “appalling culture of ongoing racism.”
As the Washington Post reports, J.H. Binford Peay, a retired four-star general who served as VMI’s superintendent since 2003, sent his letter to the school’s Board of Visitors, who “accepted it with deep regret,” wrote VMI President John Borland. In his letter, Peay referenced Northam and “certain legislative leaders [who] had lost confidence in my leadership.”
The resignation comes after the Post published an explosive report in which several Black current and former students detailed harassment and racism they experienced at the Lexington, Va., school. Despite a nationwide race reckoning at many institutions, the school staunchly venerated its Confederate roots: as recently as last year, one business professor fondly recalled her father’s KKK membership in class, sharing that she used to accompany her high school friends when they went around town assaulting Black people and other minorities who did not “belong.”
In 2018, a white sophomore told a Black first-year cadet that he would “lynch” him and use his “dead corpse as a punching bag.” Leadership at the school, which was established before the Civil War and had close ties to the Confederacy, were also not inclined to put space between the institution and its racist history, Black students and alumni said.
Recent VMI grad Kaleb Tucker shared an online petition in June demanding the school take down its statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, which first-year cadets were required to salute until recently. Tucker told The Root the practice still continues on campus, though it’s less formalized.
After the article in the Post was published, Gov. Northam, a 1981 graduate of VMI, alongside Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Lamont Bagby, the chair of Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus called for an independent probe into the school, which received $19 million in state funds over the last fiscal year.
VMI President Borland said he welcomed the investigation and was confident that the prob would find “systemic racism does not exist here.” Gen. Peay echoed those feelings.
Peay, an 80-year-old Vietnam War veteran, is a recipient of the Silver Star and the Purple Heart and is responsible for leading the 101st Airborne Division during the Gulf War. He has publicly defended VMI’s Confederate ties, commending Confederate Gen. Jackson as a “military genius” and “staunch Christian.”
In accepting Peay’s resignation letter, Borland called him a “great American, patriot, and hero,” adding that he had “profoundly changed” VMI l for the better “in all respects.”
In a statement responding to the Peay’s resignation, Lt. Gov. Fairfax warned that one resignation “does not fix a systemic problem.”
Fairfax, who will run for the commonwealth’s governorship next year, also threatened the school’s funding, adding, “We should not be allocating $19 million annually to a VMI that steadfastly refuses to change at a time when lower-income students and diverse communities are refused free lunches and adequate educational opportunities.”
“We can not continue to pretend that racism directed at African American cadets are singular incidents disconnected from a culture of longstanding systemic racism,” Fairfax said. “We must face the challenges of systemic racism in an honest way to defeat an unjust past and forge a new and inclusive future that is welcoming for all. VMI must prioritize this mission.”