Fact Checking Northam’s VMI Speech

In his recent speech to the Virginia Military Institute, Governor Ralph Northam had a lot to say about traditions and practices at the military academy when he attended in the 1970s. He recalled numerous details that supported his narrative about the “appalling” racism that justified his launch of an investigation that wound up confirming his allegation. Thank goodness for the fact- checkers at The Cadet, the Virginia Military Institute’s unsanctioned, independent student newspaper. It turns out that some of what Northam remembers just ain’t so.

The following has been excerpted from the most recent edition of The Cadet. — JAB

Gov. Northam from the Speech: “Shining my shoes and my brass. Straining. Rolling my hay up every day, and my dyke’s. Memorizing the Rat Bible. Pumping out push ups while 3rd classmen looked on with pleasure. Most of all—doing everything I could to avoid being singled out.”

Gov. Northam Statement: “That day was incredibly special for me, as the first VMI graduate to serve as Governor in more than 100 years.”

Fact Check: TRUE
Gov. Northam Statement: “In my time at VMI, I served as my company’s first corporal, first sergeant, first battalion commander, and president of the Honor Court. I wore academic stars, and like you, I was the beneficiary of a world-class education.”

Fact Check: TRUE

Gov. Northam Statement: “Back then, I didn’t ask a lot of questions about day-to-day life around VMI. … Salute that statue? … I didn’t ask why. I just did what I was told — trying to avoid ten more pushups. … It didn’t occur to me to ask, who is that a statue of? When was it erected? Why is that person being honored? Who decided that we would all salute him”

Fact Check: FALSE

Without providing any substantiating facts, the Barnes and Thornburg Investigation Final Report stated, “…after a graduate donated a statue of LTG Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to VMI in 1912, at some point a practice arose of requiring fourth class cadets to salute the statue. According to various alumni, while this tradition was in force African American Cadets who refused to salute the statue were given penalty tours. VMI ended this tradition in 2015, and in December 2020 VMI removed Jackson’s statue from in front of the barracks, with the intent of moving it to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War.” This account is inaccurate and Governor Northam’s statement of his being required to salute Jackson’s statue is false. According to official VMI records, the “alumnus” who donated the Stonewall Jackson to in 1912 was, in fact, the world famous sculptor, Sir Moses Ezekiel, Class of 1866, VMI’s first Jewish Cadet and a veteran of the Battle of New Market. Though he attended VMI, fought for the South, and survived the Battle of New Market [he] opposed slavery—“In reality no one in the South would have raised an arm to fight for slavery. It was an evil that we had inherited and that we wanted to get rid of,” he said. Neither the Barnes and Thornburg report, nor any other source has yet to produce any documentation that any Cadet, of any race, were given penalty tours for refusing to salute Jackson’s statue. This despite the fact that the records for alumni interviewed for the Washington Post Articles are available in the VMI Archives with other historic documents that could have been reviewed.

Governor Northam’s statement he was required to salute Jackson’s statue and did not know who statuary on VMI was also FALSE. A check of the Class of ’78 Rat Bible applicable to Governor Northam’s Class of ’81 and the Rat Bible published for their Rats by Governor Northam’s VMI Class of ’81 shows both published a detailed summary of the history of VMI, descriptions of major buildings and sections covering all the statues on Post (Jackson, Smith, Washington, New Market, The Spirit of Youth) that answered those questions in Governor Northam’s remarks. These documents confirm the ONLY statue Rats were officially required to salute or face possible punishment by the Rat Disciplinary Committee to Salute was General George Washington outside Washington Arch. While there may in some years have been a tradition imposed by some Cadets on others to salute Jackson’s statue, it was never an official policy or Ratline requirement for Governor Northam, according to the Rat Bible. It is possible, however, that if Governor Northam did not truly know who any of the Generals were, as he stated, that he could have confused saluting George Washington with Saluting Stonewall Jackson although this seems unlikely.

Gov. Northam Statement: “When I saw the Confederate flag, it didn’t occur to me to ask, what does flying the Confederate flag, or playing Dixie, symbolize? Why are we glorifying the Lost Cause? And might these symbols be offensive to some of my fellow cadets?

Fact Check: FALSE

The song Dixie was never played at official VMI ceremonies or events during Governor Northam’s entire time as a Cadet, and the Confederate flag, only displayed (not flown) for the annual New Market ceremonies, was removed from those ceremonies – and from VMI Class Rings – several years after Governor Northam graduated. These actions were taken by the VMI Corps of Cadets and not imposed by the administration or the Commonwealth.

According to “The Confederate Battle Flag,” by John M. Coski, “Although steeped in Confederate history, VMI began de-emphasizing Confederate symbolism when it first admitted black Cadets in 1968.”

The playing of “Dixie” and the display of the Confederate flag were actually retired, by a vote of the entire corps, when Black Cadets raised objections in 1973, eight years before Governor Northam’s Rat year). The Confederate flag and Dixie, at the time their use ceased, were only used once a year during the annual New Market Ceremonies.

According to “The SAGE Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspectives,” edited by Paul Joseph, “After racial integration in the 1960s, the school [VMI] shed some of its laudatory treatment of the Confederacy. In 1992, the Confederate battle flag was removed from VMI class rings, and the school band no longer plays “Dixie” at special events. Students can avoid the New Market Parade by volunteering for other duties on that day.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Too bad The Cadet wasn’t around three years ago to fact-check Northam’s cockamamie claim that he wasn’t the guy in blackface in that medical school yearbook photo!

Anyone who wants to support independent student journalism can donate to The Cadet at https://givebutter.com/Gw0jQW.

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48 responses to “Fact Checking Northam’s VMI Speech”

  1. Facts are pesky little creatures, constantly making life uncomfortable for the left.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      When I moved back to VA from CA in 1967, and was in the junior and then senior high band, I had to learn the trumpet parts for Dixie and it was played constantly at games and even parades. Straining to remember if it continued after the high school integrated in 1970, but I totally believe colleges, etc. retired it at about that time. Too bad, great marching song, and Lincoln claimed it as war booty for the Union and had it played at the White House.

      I discovered at both high school and Tech games that one STOOD when Dixie was played…..that surprised me.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        I never heard Dixie played when I was in high school in Northern Virginia. If it would have been played nobody would have stood.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          1997. Texas. My first PTA meeting. The president of the PTA chapter called for the pledge of allegiance.

          “I pledge allegiance to the flag of 1836,” and they alll sat down.

        2. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

          But they did stand. Perhaps the difference in our experiences can be assigned to the time we were there. I was enrolled 1962-66.

          In the early 60s, there were only a handful of high schools in Northern Virginia. I can think of Fairfax, George Washington, and W & L. W. T. Woodson, JEB Stuart, and Lee opened in the early 60s. All but possibly W.T. Woodson were playing Dixie, and the fans were standing.

          Now remember, these were kids, and Dixie was not associated with slavery, at least, with high school kids. I loved Dixie because it is a rousing tune, and I still love it. It makes me tap my feet.

          I have the same reaction when I hear Hail to the Victors (Michigan), Rocky Top (Tennessee), On Brave Old Army Team (West Point), and even the Notre Dame Fight Song (although I always root against the Irish, especially when the Alabama Crimson Tide is teaching them a lesson in humility). I love them all.

          We play all of them in our home. All are welcome to drop by for barbecue and beans and rousing music. We will not film you, or even turn your name into the authorities. Instead, we will just have fun.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            I was enrolled about 11 years later. So, there may have been more of the “stand for Dixie” mentality in your day. Frankly, I would consider standing for Dixie as unpatriotic as kneeling for the national anthem. There is only one song where you stand – the national anthem.

            However, from a purely musical perspective, I agree. Dixie is a catchy tune.

        3. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          And ironically, SW Virginia was more opposed to secession and the counties up there more in support, as I recall! But as a demographer once explained to me, the New Deal/WWII era wave of immigration to the region changed all that.

          Oops, looked it up and I was wrong. Fairfax and Loudoun delegates opposed, and many in SW Virginia did for for. It was the future WVA where the nays where stronger. (People do tend to forget it was not an overwhelming majority in VA when the votes happened.)

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            Henrico opposed succession twice. I have always had the feeling that the succession “fervor” in Virginia was a very mixed bag.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            You and Haner are very much correct that Virginia was a mixed bag, which more than likely resulted in many Virginian Union dead making these monuments to the Confederacy all the more ridiculous.

          3. Donald Smith Avatar
            Donald Smith

            If you want to say that the journalists in The Cadet who rebutted and exposed Northam’s distortion of the truth are ridiculous, then have the decency to hitch up your big-puppy (OK, big-girl) pants and say it. For a change, be a woman.

            (Edited to fix typo).

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            WTF? I would tell you to grow up, but that would take you 150 years.

          5. Donald Smith Avatar
            Donald Smith

            Bless your heart, darlin’

          6. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            “But if you’ve been carrying pictures of Chairman Mao…”. Works for other dead losers too.

          7. I found this map interesting. What a difference a few days can make, eh?


          8. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers was the deal breaker. My 5th great grandfather William Marshall Tredway was a key swing vote at the convention. Tredway and John Janney could not hold the Unionist coalition together and switched votes in the end. Lincoln miscalculated. The call for volunteers and the prompt secession of the upper south made the viability of the Confederacy possible.

          9. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            What would interesting would be a county map with the level of slave ownship overlaid on that one. The data is there, but only county by county.

          10. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Revenooers, don’tcha know…

        4. James Kiser Avatar
          James Kiser

          I agree I grew in NoVA and never heard Dixie played at any game or any school event.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I still remember the words…
        “Oh way down south in the land of cotton, my feet stink but yours are rotten,…”

      3. Donald Smith Avatar
        Donald Smith

        Not sure what this has to do with VMI—do you plan to explain that?

        I’ve noticed a lot of lazy thinking like this among the statue-topplers: “The statue of Jackson in Charlottesville is offensive, because it was erected in a mostly-black neighborhood…so the statue of Jackson at VMI has to go!”


  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Northam is a typical member of Virginia’s plantation elite. In other words, he is a practiced liar.

    1. He lied when he said that he never know his ancestors owned slaves. Nobody operated an antebellum plantation on the Eastern Shore without slaves. At best, he could have said that he had no direct evidence that his ancestors owned slaves. As it turned out, they did own slaves.

    2. He lied when he said it wasn’t him in the blackface picture.

    3. He lied when he said he didn’t know how the photo got into the yearbook.

    4. He lied when he claimed he has no knowledge of where the term “Coonman” came from.

    5. He lied when he claimed that the budget surplus was the result of a roaring economy instead of a series of tax hikes.

    6. He lied when he claimed to be a champion of ending the grocery tax.

    7. He lied repeatedly in his VMI speech. He didn’t know that the statue of Stonewall Jackson was a statue of Stonewall Jackson? He didn’t know who Stonewall Jackson was? C’mon man.

    Like the plantation elite sitting on their front porches on Monument Avenue sipping bourbon and branch water while talking about the “War of Northern Aggression” that was fought over states’ rights, Northam takes great liberty with the truth.

  3. This is the first time I remember seeing the confederate battle flag:


    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      1953?! Wow, you’re older than you look.

      1. Maybe VMI could replace the Jackson statue with one of Yosemite Sam.

      2. I guess I should have made it clear that while the cartoon is where I first saw the flag, I didn’t actually see the cartoon until a few years after it was released. 🙂

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think they censored it until the 1990s.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Popeye. I saw an uncensored WWII Popeye. Damn near porn.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “Gotta burn my boots. They touched northern soil.”

  4. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    “This account is inaccurate and Governor Northam’s statement of his being required to salute Jackson’s statue is false.”

    It takes balls to say that. In a day and age where, according to Jordan Peterson, 2o anonymous jerks on Twitter can intimidate most adults into silence.

    The twenty-something staffers of The Cadet have shown more courage that most American adults would, nowadays.

    They must know that, by calling out the governor, that they’re angering powerful people. (And a lot of the VMI faculty). And yet, they did it. They put a target on their backs. I’m not sure I would have. (Would YOU have?)

    Stonewall Jackson is proud of them, I’m sure. We all should be proud.

    And, if the minions of the powers-that-be target these cadets (in the shadows, of course), then honorable men and women need to step up and defend those cadets. Otherwise, how can we expect honorable men and women to step up in the future?

    I just donated to The Cadet. They may need money, very soon, for legal fees as well as publishing. Progressives are very, very vindictive creatures.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Good writing on W&L and VMI starting on page 130, including pictures of contemporary cadets who will be ‘splaining things 40 years from now. Blackface is easier to explain than Blackbody.

    1. Jake Spivey Avatar
      Jake Spivey

      Nah, not really good writing. The author surely planned to turn his dissertation into a book and get paid by the word.
      My lands, he sure knows how to pile on the superlatives. Additionally, he calls LewRockwell.com a “neo-Confederate website.” Anyone who frequently reads a significant number of articles posted there (I do) will have a difficult time finding Confederacy focused authors.

    2. Okay. But can someone tell me what the hell it has to do with “Environmental Design and Planning”?

      Also, they can pick on Stonewall Jackson all they want, but Little Sorrell never did anything wrong, and I will not stand silent while his name is dragged through the mud by some “planner”. 😉

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Your proof of false statements by Northam is big on history short on that he knew it. Surely, you can find contradictory statements by him. It’s been 40 years. He’s bound to have spoken of his time at VMI on the record in the past.

    Too many monuments to the Confederacy. Too few EF-4 tornadoes.

    “This account is inaccurate and Governor Northam’s statement of his being required to salute Jackson’s statue is false.”

    He doesn’t say who required he salute the statue. My brother’s plebe summer he was required to “play dead” on command by his 2nd classmen, who would then ritualistically raise him from the dead, a la Lazerus. It’s not in the USNA book, I’m sure.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Yes, I think the students there skipped the Fact-checking 101 course…

    2. You have to admit, his memory of “memorizing the Rat Bible” is incongruous with his claims about not knowing who the statues were of and why they were there.

      Your point about it having been 40 years since he was at VMI is valid, though. People’s memories are altered and/or exaggerated a bit in one direction or another as they get older and their perspectives on life change. It’s part of being human.

      It reminds me of an old road racers’ adage that goes: “The older I get the faster I was”.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive


        An awful lot of reporting says Dixie was phased out in the “late 70s” with the Newmarket Ceremony in one of those years being the last time. Confederate flags left in the 1990s? Apparently.

        1. Kind of a weaselly apology.

          Another thing I gleaned from the article is that a certain civil rights attorney from Portales does not know the difference between “in front of” and “behind”. Perhaps he should watch Sesame Street every morning until he overcomes his confusion…

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            While reading for the “in front of” reference, this popped up where the NM Legislature is thinking of a constitutional amendment and a redistricting commission.

            Think we should warn them?

          2. Nah, let them make their own mistakes…

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      He didn’t know who the statue of Stonewall Jackson represented? Uh … Stonewall Jackson? He didn’t know who Stonewall Jackson was?

      Maybe his Byrd Machine connections, rather than his brains, were responsible for Northam getting into VMI in the first place.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I spent 3 years at W&M and never saw the statue of TJ, never knew the significance of that dumb bridge, and probably dozens of other historical tidbits. Believe, or not, some people go through school obvious to the stupid crap that’s meaningless to most.

        Stonewall Jackson is just another meaningless person whose history has long since been worthy of forgetting.

    4. It’s not in the USNA book, I’m sure.

      Really? I thought such things were covered in “Appendix D – Developing Creative and Humorous Methods of Humiliating Plebes”.


      When was your brother there? My original “Plan A for WayneS’s Life” was to graduate the Naval Academy and become an F-14 pilot. Once it was obvious my less-than-perfect eyesight would keep me from ever being a Naval Aviator I decided to stay a civilian.

      That reminds me: Happy First Flight Day. And Happy 80th Birthday to the Civil Air Patrol (a few days late).

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Mid 60s. Hazing was officially banned one or two years after he was there. Some of the stuff while he was there was flat out felonious. One of his classmates was required to do 10 pullups every morning… from a 3rd floor windowsill. Bro was ordered to drink a bottle of Whostershire.

        One particular story. Bancroftt Hall is steel and stone. Upper classmen would squirt lighter fluid under the plebe’s door and touch it off.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Nothing like contemporaneous reporting. 1980 was the first “Dixieless” year. Ralph was there Sept 77 to May 81.


    “Damn foolishness,” is the way one white-haired alumnus judged this week’s Dixieless commemoration of the Battle of New Market, a Civil War bloodbath now soaked in glory, during which 10 VMI students were killed and 47 wounded before the Union forces were defeated.”

    1. Valid question. It’s good to fact-check the fact-checkers. But here’s the part you left out: “More recently, and perhaps most drastic at a school known in some quarters as the West Point of the Confederacy, racial tensions led to the banning of “Dixie” from all ceremonial parades.”

      So, how recent (in the context of 1980 when the article was written) was “more recently.”

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I’m going to keep searching, but one thing to remember on years, school years are two years, 73-74, for example. When they say 1974, do they mean Jan to May or Sept to Dec?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Apparently, the cadets wanted to stop playing Dixie in 1973. The BoV overruled them. In 1974, they relented. But the question will remain, “When was the last time the VMI band played ‘Dixie’?” Sometime between 1974 and 1980, to be sure. Band directors are sometimes their own men. Safe to say “men” in 1970s at VMI.

        Northam was there in 1977. Way too much error to declare he is FALSE

        You should read the Santa Fe article on Judge William Johnson provided in one of my comments. Northam may be wrong, but his classmate lends some credence to his recollections.

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    First, there is this from a Santa Fe paper article about Willim P Johnson (link in another comment)

    “Col. William Wyatt, Virginia Military Institute’s director of communications, said in a recent phone interview the school phased out the playing of “Dixie” in the 1970s and stopped using the Confederate flag in the 1990s.

    First-year cadets were required to salute a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson until 2015. Since then, Wyatt said, cadets have been required to salute the U.S. flag.”

    See the word “required”.

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