The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Change the world? Two students start with their neighborhood and find it’s not so neighborly.

Carolina McCabe and Neel Simpson, both 20, at the entrance to Stonewall Manor in Vienna, Va.
Carolina McCabe and Neel Simpson, both 20, at the entrance to Stonewall Manor in Vienna, Va. (David Simpson)

Stonewall Manor is an idyllic Northern Virginia suburban neighborhood where residents wave and greet one another as they walk their dogs, where this month’s newsletter has plans for a food drive and the garden club is holding its annual plant sale.

Now? There are insults and icy stares.

Two of its residents came back from college, brought some activism home and found doors slammed in their faces and comments in the neighborhood email thread comparing them to the Taliban.

“We know them. We trick-or-treated at their houses,” Carolina McCabe said. “They were people we used to admire when we were younger. Now they didn’t even want to talk to us.”


Stonewall Jackson.

McCabe and Neel Simpson, both 20, both with a parent or grandparents who were immigrants, grew up in Stonewall Manor in Vienna. It’s a neighborhood constructed in 1963 that pays homage — from the bas-relief of the bearded Confederate general at its entrance to the street named after his horse — to a man who had zero ties to the area.

As a kid, Simpson didn’t quite get the symbolism.

Attacks on statues of enslavers, Confederate generals and others reflect the symbolic place they hold worldwide in the history of and fight against racism. (Video: The Washington Post)

“We thought it was called Stonewall because, you know, of the stone walls,” he said, pointing to the grand entrance that features the defeated general.

Through the eyes of kids growing up in a multihued, diverse area, the whole Confederate thing seemed weird.

“Stonewall Jackson was not born here. He did not die here. He never came here,” Simpson said. “The only history this wall celebrates is the history of white supremacy, slavery and segregation.”

They’d started talking to their parents and teachers about the names of their winding streets and verdant cul-de-sacs when they were still in grammar school, after learning about the Civil War in their classes.

“One African American family told me it was always embarrassing to give their address to friends coming over,” McCabe said.

That family lived at the corner of Stonewall Drive and Jackson Parkway.

She learned why that family never liked their address.

And they were both in high school when they learned their skepticism about the whole “Stonewall Manor is preserving history” argument wasn’t unique.

But when they both watched the deadly violence in Charlottesville — the place where Nazis marched with torches three years ago and a white nationalist was convicted of killing a protester with his car — they thought there might be an opportunity to help change the name of their childhood neighborhood.

They spoke with the town elders. Some of them have been trying to get rid of the bas-relief images of Jackson for more than a decade. Some swatted such concerns away and gave them the tired, old story about a 1963 construction that allegedly preserves history.

The pair brought historians and county representatives to their association meetings over the past year.

And they explained how these names and symbols came to Fairfax County when it was still segregated and schools were actively fighting desegregation.

“We even had a descendant of Stonewall Jackson talk,” McCabe said.

One of Jackson’s great-great-grandsons Skyped into a forum last summer to say he doesn’t approve of this kind of worship of his great-great-grandpops.

Still, every so often, a little Confederate flag would sprout among the marigolds beneath Stonewall’s profile. This year, it was placed there on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, McCabe said.

There was discussion but little movement.

Then the pandemic hit and McCabe and Simpson came home from college — she’s at Tufts University in Massachusetts, he’s at William and Mary in Williamsburg — to ride it out.

Back in good old Stonewall Manor.

When the Black Lives Matter protests began after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and statues were getting toppled across the country, they were jolted out of their pandemic ennui.

“I went to D.C. to protest, but here in my neighborhood is where it all starts,” McCabe said. “Going door-to-door, talking to people.”

Confederate memorials are just an excuse for the losers to keep fighting their lost cause

They began a petition that as of Monday morning had nearly 1,500 signatures.

But they also got a whiff of what they’re up against.

“There’s a large, silent majority that has been complicit in having these symbols out there,” Simpson said.

Emails came from neighbors comparing them to the Taliban and ISIS. The moderator of the neighborhood email group wouldn’t post their handbill, so as not to “harm the community.”

But it is the silence of the sweet neighbors who always seemed so kind to the kids that felt the most damaging, they said.

One woman even told Simpson’s mother, who was born in India, that she couldn’t be racist.

“She told her she dated an Italian,” Simpson said. “And she told my mom: ‘In the summer, he got as dark as you.’ ”

Those are the kind of comments that hurt, he said.

The president of the neighborhood association said the removal of that Stonewall image can happen, but it’s up to the residents.

It “comes down to a community vote,” Lynn Glendinning said. “As in all communities, we have residents who are on both sides of the issue.”

The Youth for Progress activists — Simpson and McCabe are joined by a half dozen other recent high school graduates and college students who also grew up there — have a proposal.

Long ago, before it became “a community of homes built on the principles of integrity” and honoring a general “who held his ground ‘like a stone wall,’ ” according to a 1963 brochure for the place, the area had another name.

“We found out it was called Great Woods,” Simpson said.

Great Woods. Sounds way better on a brochure, don’t you think?

Twitter: @petulad

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