In 2017, the National Cathedral removed its stained-glass windows featuring images of the Confederate flag and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Finally, they are to be replaced with new racial justice-themed windows designed by lauded artist Kerry James Marshall. A poem by Elizabeth Alexander, inscribed in stone, will also be featured on the window installation.
The Confederate stained-glass windows were installed in the National Cathedral in 1953 after being donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They remained there for over 50 years, placed on the southern face of the Cathedral’s main worship space. After the deadly shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC in 2015 where nine Black people were killed by a white supremacist, Dean Gary Hall called for the removal of the windows.
However, it wasn’t until 2017 that immediate action was taken. After the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Chalottesville, VA where a young woman was killed and dozens injured, the Confederate windows were deconsecrated and removed.
“For nearly 70 years, these windows and their Confederate imagery told an incomplete story; they celebrated two generals, but they did nothing to address the reality and painful legacy of America’s original sin of slavery and racism. They represented a false narrative of what America once was and left out the painful truth of our history,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, in a statement.
Marshall has yet to make decisions about how he will approach this high-profile project, as it requires a considerable amount of rumination. At the Cathedral national press conference, he said, “I’m not going to be able to shed any light on what the project is going to be because the challenge that the committee set for the replacement windows is a monumental task and it’s something cannot be known ahead of time because the issues that the windows have to address are more complicated than anything that might be configured in a really simple sort of concept or idea.”
The mission for the commissioned windows is to “create for all time an artistic embodiment of both darkness and light, the pain of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow and the quiet and exemplary dignity of the African American struggle for justice and equality.”
Due to the significant nature of the project, the newly designed windows are not expected to be completed until 2023. “This is something that’s actually going to take a lot of time because history itself, as most people know, is a very complicated narrative to try to wrestle down,” said Marshall.
Watch the National Cathedral press conference below: