Under fierce attack over racism in its ranks, the Virginia Military Institute has appointed a Black man to lead the school for the first time in its 181-year history, VMI officials announced Friday.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, who graduated from VMI in 1985, will serve as interim superintendent until the Board of Visitors appoints a permanent chief to oversee the country’s oldest state-funded military college. He takes over from the school’s longtime superintendent, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, who resigned after Black cadets described startling bigotry in an interview.

The school, which was founded in 1839 and whose cadets fought and died for the Confederacy in the Civil War, has had 14 superintendents, all of them White. It was the last public college in Virginia to integrate, admitting five Black students in 1968. (It took a 1996 Supreme Court decision to end its resistance to admitting women.) About 8 percent of the school’s 1,700 students are African American.

“The selection of Major General Wins is a strong move in the right direction,” said Michael Purdy, a 1999 VMI graduate and a Google attorney who helped lead a campaign this year to remove a campus statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. “It tells the commonwealth and nation that VMI still produces high-caliber leaders and is ready to embrace positive change. Given his stellar reputation, we’re optimistic that General Wins will lead the institute with clarity of purpose.”