The Virginia Military Institute on Monday removed a statue of Thomas J. “Stonewall’ Jackson, the Confederate general and former VMI professor whose presence loomed over the institute’s barracks for over a century.
A crane lifted the bronze statue from its pedestal ahead of its relocation to a Civil War museum.
In a statement, Interim Superintendent retired Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins acknowledged Jackson’s ties to Lexington and to the institute but said that the time for change had come.
“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,” Wins, an African American VMI graduate, said in a statement.
The statue’s removal comes as VMI has tried to combat allegations of having a culture of ongoing racism.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests this summer, investigative reports in The Roanoke Times and The Washington Post detailed allegations by Black students and alumni against the school, including stories about a now-abandoned practice of requiring first-year students to salute the Jackson statue.
That reporting prompted Virginia officials to launch an investigation into the institute in late October and led to the resignation of VMI’s superintendent. In addition, VMI’s Board of Visitors on October 29 directed the institute to remove the Jackson statue from its place in front of the barracks.
In his statement, Wins said the school “has a long history of receiving young men and women from all walks of life, and instilling in them the values and skills necessary to be leaders of character who value service above self.
“While those values will endure, VMI is no stranger to change. Time and again over the past 181 years, the Institute has adapted and changed. Each time, we have become a better, stronger institution. Though change can sometimes be difficult, it is time for our beloved Institution to move forward, to strengthen our unique system of education and training, and grow the leaders of tomorrow.”
Based in Lexington, VMI is a public military college that has an enrollment of about 1,700 students. Last year, VMI counted 102 Black students among its enrollment – about 6% of the student body.
Jackson, a slaveholder, was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (physics) at VMI and a prominent figure in the Lexington community before joining the Confederate side in the Civil War, according to the institute. He died from wounds in 1863 and is buried in a cemetery in Lexington.
Where the statue is going
Statues of Confederate leaders, including Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, have been taken down across the country in recent years as those in power increasingly recognize the intimidating message they send to Black residents.
The issue is particularly fraught in Virginia, where Richmond was made the capital of the Confederacy. The White supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, for example, centered on the proposed removal of a statue of Lee in a city park.
The Jackson statue will be taken to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, the institute said. VMI cadets fought at the Battle of New Market in May 1864.
The statue will be installed in the roundabout in front of the museum, which belongs to VMI, by summer or fall of 2021.
VMI historian Col. Keith Gibson said in a statement the new location has a particular historical context for Jackson.
“Though Jackson did not fight in the Battle of New Market, the Luray Gap of the Massanutten Mountain, which can be seen from the battlefield, played a strategic role in concealing his army’s movements against Union troops,” he said. “How fitting it is for the statue of Stonewall Jackson to look out over the Luray Gap which played such an important part of his Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.”
The statue was originally given to VMI in 1912 by famed sculptor Moses Ezekiel, the institute’s first Jewish cadet and a veteran of the Battle of New Market, according to the institute.