A Defense of the Stonewall Jackson Monument and VMI's Sacred Heritage

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The Virginia Military Institute has been, and currently is a bastion of honor, integrity, respect, education and opportunity. These traits stem from a heritage that dates back to our founding in 1839. Through a civil war, two world wars, countless other engagements, the civil rights movement, and into the present day, VMI has always produced leaders that have shaped America for the better. Whether alumni or faculty, those who call VMI home are men and women of character, shaped by our sacred heritage and honorable traditions.

Now the very core of the Institute is under attack by those who seek to destroy these noble ideas that have made VMI cadets an “honor to their country and their state” . A recent petition circulated by a disgruntled alumnus has received media attention and a smattering of support from those who despise the very foundations of our beloved Institute. Their charge is that VMI is built upon racism, which affects the Institute today, and that the statue of Jackson must be removed from the Institute grounds to atone for VMI’s supposed sins. The petition, along with comments from its supporters, paint VMI in a slanderous light, and must be refuted to ensure the continuation of an Institute that has brought so much good into the world.
The charges of racism against Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are due to his ownership of slaves. Yes, Jackson owned six slaves. No, he was not a perfect man, however he must be judged through the context of his age. To judge him through a 21st century lens is unjust. Jackson, in violation of Virginia law, taught his slaves and other black Americans how to read and write. He personally taught an all-black Sunday School class, despite facing the threat of being fined and flogged for doing so. If we are to remove his statue, perhaps we must also remove the statue of George Washington as well, considering he owned slaves. Perhaps we should also demolish the statue of “Virginia Mourning Her Dead”, while digging up the sacred graves of the New Market cadets in the process? Removing the statue of Jackson is akin to such sacrilegious acts and is an attempt to erase our history. All these brave, honorable men were flawed, just like every cadet that marches through the hallowed arches of the Institute. Yet, despite their flaws, they contributed greatly to the heritage of not just the school, but also America. They are rightly honored for their noble deeds.

Various disgruntled alumnus have slandered VMI by stating it is an institution where systemic racism flourishes due to our history. Such charges are not supported by facts, events inside the barracks, or by VMI’s policies. VMI actively encourages and requires minority students to have equal, if not greater opportunity when applying for rank in the Corps of Cadets. Cadet organizations monitor and ensure the equal treatment of every cadet, regardless of rank, creed, color, sex or faith. Saying otherwise is an insult to every Brother Rat. Cadets are judged on their character and actions; our honor code demands such high standards. A reoccurring trend among those publicly supporting the petition to remove Jackson’s statue is hatred for VMI’s traditions, and a singular focus on themselves; not the Corps, not their Brother Rats. One interview in a recent media article said that the tradition of charging across the field at New Market made a cadet “feel small”. If so, then VMI succeeded, although not in the manner the disgruntled alumnus meant. For that is the purpose of the ratline. The individual must diminish, the Corps and your Brother Rats must increase. It is only when a cadet recognizes they are small and stand on the shoulder of the giants who have gone before; Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, the New Market Cadets, George Marshall, Jonathan Daniels; that they can achieve “the decency and the nobility of which you are capable”.

We call upon all Alumni to defend VMI’s honorable legacy and ensure the Institute will be heard from today, tomorrow and across future generations. In view of these facts, we affirm the following:

1. VMI’s heritage is unique and honorable. It is the bedrock of the Institute’s success, and must be preserved for future generations of cadets.
2. While recognizing the flaws of our distinguished alumni, we affirm their honor and integrity, knowing they provide noble examples to the corps, the United States and world.
3. The statues honoring the heritage of VMI; including the statue of “Stonewall” Jackson must be defended and preserved by the Institute if it wishes to continue its mission “to produce educated, honorable men and women” Removing such reminders of our heritage will do nothing to educated future generations of cadets, nor increase their honor.
4. All prospective cadets, to include athletic recruits, must be presented with the history and heritage of VMI, during visits to the Institute. Those prospective cadets who do not affirm and support the heritage and traditions of VMI are encouraged to apply elsewhere and not seek to destroy the very ideals that have made VMI a noble institution for over 180 years.
5. The Institute leadership is encouraged to adamantly defend VMI from those seeking to destroy our traditions and heritage. Traditions, such as Rats saluting the Jackson statue, civility towards all, remembering the fallen at New Market etc. must be encouraged or reinstated. Failing to do so will cause VMI to become just another school, not the road less traveled and a leadership laboratory for our nation.

Administrative Update: 23JUN2020

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