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Tuesday, September 9, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former cadets working to revive military college for males only

The Associated Press

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Disgusted by what they see as the extinction of the all-male Southern military college, some graduates want to build one of their own, based on the way The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute (VMI) used to be.

That is, they say, before those schools started admitting women, before they stopped saying mealtime prayers, and before the winds of political correctness swept aside many of the reminders of the Confederacy.

"Southern traditions that have been tarnished and almost lost will live again," backers of the planned Southern Military Institute say on their Web site, www.south-mil-inst.org. "The concept of an officer and a Southern gentleman will be the standard, not the exception."

The nonprofit group headed by Michael Guthrie of Madison, Ala., is planning to purchase a 450-acre farm in Tennessee and hopes to open with a first class of about 30 cadets in the fall of 2004. It would be the nation's only private, all-male four-year military college.

Backers say it will extol the virtues of military discipline and the legacy of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Confederate symbols, including the first national Confederate flag, are included in the school's promotional materials. But Guthrie said blacks are welcome to attend.

"We have been villainized, especially Southern Christian heritage has been villainized as racist," Guthrie said. "I think there are a lot of conservative blacks who would understand the issues that revolved around the Civil War. There will also be people who oppose us. The very reason we are having to start this school — we have become a minority in this country."

Guthrie, an engineer for a defense contractor and a 1977 VMI graduate, is a former member of the League of the South, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., has identified as racist.

"Having a leader like that of a college is obviously of some concern to us," said Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the center, which tracks hate groups. "This is very much in the vein of what these neo-Confederate organizations believe in. It is sexist. It is to a certain extent secessionist."

The Southern Military Institute is trying to raise $500,000 to open the school and then will try to bring in an additional $1 million within 18 months, Guthrie said.

"Private money and private foundations are the only source to maintain our freedom of choice and freedom of education and academic freedom," he said.

Guthrie, who also is a lieutenant colonel in the Tennessee Army National Guard, said the curriculum initially will be geared toward qualifying graduates to become National Guard officers. Guthrie envisions the enrollment eventually growing to about 1,200 cadets.

"We have quite a few interested conservative Christian groups, and home-schoolers have expressed interest," he said.

If all goes as planned, the school would be just outside Shelbyville, a city of about 16,000 residents, 23 percent of whom are black.

One of those black residents, Antonio Thompson, lives with his wife and four children in a house a few miles from the proposed site of the school.

"As long as they don't bother me, they can go on about their business," he said.

Bedford County Executive Jimmy Woodson said that he has not been contacted by the group but that the college would be welcome if it "doesn't discriminate against minorities and women."

But the Southern Military Institute's vice president, Jack Daniel, a 1954 VMI graduate, said the all-male enrollment is crucial to his vision for the school:

"We believe that education in a military environment is assisted by male bonding."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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