Wokeism is a bit like kudzu. It’s not indigenous to the South, but once it starts growing… brother you better believe it will be hard to contain. And soon enough, you’ll wonder what life was like before it infested everything.

Kudzu is pervasive south of the James River, which runs through Richmond. Wokeism, alternatively, is less common in the southern parts of the Old Dominion, but is making significant in-roads in my native Northern Virginia — and, by extension, the state government, which is increasingly dominated by NoVa politicians. And unfortunately once the NoVa technocratic elites and their demographic dominance have decided on something, it becomes a lot harder to resist.

Take, for example, the trend to rename anything in Northern Virginia that smells of Confederate heritage. First on the chopping block was J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church. The local school board in 2017 voted to change the name to Justice High School. Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield was next: as of 2020 it is John R. Lewis High School. And Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, also as of last year, is now Unity Reed High School.

Yet as I argued in an article for The American Conservative last year, progressives were never going to be limited to just targeting what had been named after those labeled “traitors” to the United States. Such argumentation has really only picked up rhetorical steam in the last generation, as many Americans are either so far removed from their own history they’ve forgotten that North and South reconciled after the Civil War, or their patrimonial connection to our nation’s history is so tenuous that they could care less about some dead “old white men.”

Thus T.C. Williams High School of “Remember the Titans” fame was recently renamed Alexandria City High School — the school’s original namesake, Thomas Chambliss Williams, a former superintendent of Alexandria’s school system, was an avowed segregationist. Mosby Woods Elementary in Fairfax, named after Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby, was also recently renamed Mosaic Elementary School. (Somewhat related, Three Notch’d Brewery in Charlottesville until recently carried an American Pale Ale named “Ghost of the 43rd” also in honor of Mosby, but recently re-christened it “Ghost of the James.”) Repudiating the “Grey Ghost,” however, is a bit of a different animal, given that after the war Mosby served as U.S. Consul to Hong Kong as well as in posts in the U.S. Departments of Interior and Justice.

But it’s not just Confederates, segregationists, and forgiven Confederates who became former U.S. federal officials who must be rejected. The City of Falls Church in late April declared that Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will now be Oak Street Elementary School, and George Mason High School will be Meridian High School. Both of these founding fathers, the board apparently recently discovered, owned slaves.

Both Jefferson and Mason were instrumental in our nation’s founding, and in the early history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Jefferson’s tombstone is inscribed: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.” Certainly impressive feats, though this notably omits the fact that Jefferson was our third president, U.S. Secretary of State, governor of Virginia, and the man responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, among many other things.

Mason, though less illustrious than Jefferson, certainly left his mark on the Founding. His Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), served as a basis for the later U.S. Bill of Rights. He served as a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and even pressed for an immediate end to the slave trade (I wonder if Falls Church City leadership even knew that). And though his home is no match for the remarkable architectural achievement that is Jefferson’s Monticello, Gunston Hall possesses its own colonial elegance. It’s also not far from where I grew up in Lorton, Virginia — indeed, one of my uncles had his wedding on the plantation.

But to those who have drunk deep of woke ideology and its tenets of “white supremacy” and “patriarchal power structures,” none of this matters. The men I’ve cited above were slave owners who perpetuated a racist society and economy that engaged in the criminal theft of black labor, or they were segregationists who encouraged racist ideology that oppressed black Americans. And for this, wokeism demands their names be excised from public memorialization. I am deeply troubled by what is happening in Northern Virginia, as should any conscientious Southerner.

When these name changes first began, I was skeptical and suspicious. They claimed to be targeting only so-called Confederate “traitors,” but it was immediately obvious the activists had a far broader ideological agenda in mind. This was ultimately an attempt to tar our shared American history as something so deeply evil that any honoring of it must be dismantled and destroyed. The vilification of Jefferson, Mason, and even Mosby prove my suspicions accurate. This is a campaign to fundamentally remake America and its understanding of itself.

Men and women are complicated. Even our greatest heroes had flaws and made mistakes. Their failures — like those of Jefferson or Mason — may obscure their achievements, but they cannot eradicate them. All of us, whether we live in the Old Dominion or not, are indebted to such men for helping to create this wonderful nation. That Northern Virginians would so carelessly dispense with such heroes exposes both their ignorance and their hypocrisy. The former, in that the very ideals they espouse — liberty, equality, and human dignity —  were made possible by the men they now cancel. The latter, in that these same Northern Virginia elites through their pro-choice policies effect the murdering of the unborn, an evil even greater than the enslaving of our fellow man. No statue or memorial should ever honor these people, because they themselves have shown such contempt for their patrimony.

I warn my fellow Southerners who inhabit the deeper districts of Dixie: beware of what is happening in Northern Virginia, the same region that gave our nation Washington, Mason, and Lee, among other noble men. This woke progressivism, like the invasive species kudzu, is going to keep spreading across the South, unless men of goodwill rise up to resist it. If they don’t, the South, covered in this anti-human, anti-historical hogwash, like Southern trees covered in foot-a-night vine, will no longer be recognizable.

Casey Chalk

Casey Chalk has degrees in history and education from the University of Virginia, and a masters in theology from Christendom College. He is a regular contributor for New Oxford Review, The Federalist, American Conservative, and Crisis Magazine. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute).

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