The windows will now be replaced with an honorable depiction of American history.
The Washington National Cathedral just named a new artist to replace the former Confederate windows, NBC Connecticut reports. Contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall, known for depicting Black life, has designed new stained-glass windows for the National Cathedral. The windows will now be themed with racial justice images, replacing the former set depicting Confederate imagery taken down in 2017. The sanctuary put out a statement, saying the four windows will tell “a new and more complete” story of the country’s racial history.
The former set of windows honored Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, conveying saint-like reverence, including an image of the Confederate flag. In 2017, amidst a national reckoning over Confederate imagery and white supremacist delusion after the deadly right-wing attacks in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 and Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the windows were removed and covered with plywood since then.
The cathedral, which serves as the seat of the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and Diocese of Washington, is a national landmark that hosts many of the country’s major events. The massive windows and cathedral are covered with iconography depicting the history of America in both glass and stone with images that include presidents, cultural figures, and state symbols. Cathedral officials believe that replacing the windows is helping correct a “false narrative of what America once was.”
“[The old windows] were a barrier to our mission and impediment to worship in this place, and they had no place being in sacred space...This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the cathedral to not only create beautiful art but to stake a claim about what and who we value,” Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said.
Marshall has had an extensive career as an artist, using various media to create works depicting Black life. In 1997, he was a MacArthur fellow. Poet Elizabeth Alexander will also lend her words to the piece, writing a poem inscribed in stone tablets alongside the windows, replacing older ones that honored the lives of Confederate soldiers. Alexander is an author, president of the Mellon Foundation, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and was an inaugural poet at the 2009 ceremony for President Barack Obama.
“[I am honored to be part of the cathedral’s] effort to ensure that those who worship within its sanctuary know that it is truly a space for all people and that the stories relayed through its sacred walls, windows, and other iconography represent the truth of our nation,” Alexander said.
Marshall recently visited the cathedral for the first time to get an idea of what he’s going to create so he can align with the cathedral’s goal of showing both the pain and triumph of “the African-American struggle for justice and equality.”
“It was really important for me to come here and really get a sense of what the place is, what’s already here, what the mission they’ve tried to accomplish is, and then how I might be able to fit whatever it is the cathedral needs in order to fulfill its ambition for these windows...into that space...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,” Marshall said.
This will be the artist’s first time using a stained-glass medium for his work, but many are confident that he will be more than able to rise to the occasion.
“[Marshall is] one of the greatest artists of our time...one of our nation’s most eloquent and compelling voices,” Rev. Hollerith said.
The Washington Cathedral donated the previous Robert E. Lee window to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The window will be a part of their new exhibit, “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies.” The NMAAHC says the window signifies the “myth-building and the nationwide intimidation of African Americans through the embrace of Confederate symbols.”
Congratulations, Mr. Marshall!
Photo Courtesy of Washington National Cathedral