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Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after allegations of racism surface

The Hill logo The Hill 10/26/2020 Ellen Mitchell
a group of people: Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after allegations of racism surface © Getty Images Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after allegations of racism surface

The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) resigned on Monday after allegations of racism prompted the governor to launch an investigation into the school, according to the Board of Visitors.

Retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay, 80, tendered his resignation to the board which "accepted it with deep regret," wrote its president, John Boland.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last week ordered an independent investigation into allegations of an "appalling culture of ongoing structural racism" at VMI after The Washington Post detailed first-hand accounts at the Lexington, Va., school.

Northam, who graduated from VMI in 1981, signed a letter ordering the investigation that was also signed by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and several state House and Senate leaders.

The investigation was launched after the Post reported several allegations, including a student's lynching threat, a teacher reminiscing about the Ku Klux Klan and instances of people openly expressing admiration for the Confederacy, which was fighting to preserve slavery.

Boland responded to Northam at the time, saying in a letter that he welcomed the review and was confident that it would find that "systemic racism does not exist here."

Peay also issued a letter last week, asserting that he did not believe systemic racism existed at the U.S.'s oldest state-supported military college, which was founded ahead of the Civil War in 1839.

Peay, who had been superintendent since 2003, wrote in his resignation letter that Northam and "certain legislative leaders had lost confidence in my leadership."

The longtime head of the school had also gotten pushback this summer when he said the school will not remove Confederate monuments or rename buildings named after Confederate leaders.

In a seven-page letter to the school's community released in late July, Peay said that officials agree "we want to erase any hint of racism at VMI, in our communities, and in our country," but that the school has a past "intertwined with the history of Virginia and the Civil War."

He also defended Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who is depicted in a campus statue, as a "military genius."

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