national cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral recently unveiled several racial justice-themed stained glass windows. The four new windows show people of color marching in protests while holding signs that read “Fairness” and “No Foul Play.” The windows have replaced previous ones that honored Confederate leaders, including Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas “Stone Wall” Jackson.

The new windows are now above the Episcopal Cathedral’s main worship space. The windows’ artist, Kerry James Marshall, spoke at the dedication ceremony, stating, “Today’s event has been organized to highlight one instance where a change of symbolism is meant to repair a breach of America’s creation promise of liberty and justice for all.” Marshall, a MacArthur Foundation Fellow whose body of work centers on depicting the lives of Black people, added that his windows “reinforce those ideals and aspirations embodied in the Cathedral’s structure and its mission to remind us that we can be better, and do better than we did yesterday, today.”

The process to replace the Confederate depictions started years before when then-National Cathedral Dean Gary Place called for their removal in 2015. Hall’s request came after the slaying of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, at the hands of a white supremacist shooter. At the time, Hall recognized that the original windows, some of which contained images of Confederate flags, were installed in 1953 as a mark of reconciliation between the North and South after the war. However, he expressed that times had changed, which required their replacement.

Dean Hall declared, “While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent. There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community.” Cathedral leaders removed the Confederacy-themed windows in 2017 following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading to a counter-protester’s death.

The windows were deconsecrated and put in storage at the cathedral. After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the windows depicting Gen. Lee were loaned to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for an exhibit on the Reconstruction Era. At the dedication ceremony, current Dean Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith condemned the previous windows, saying, “Simply put, these windows were offensive, and they were a barrier to the ministry of this cathedral, and they were antithetical to our call to be a house of prayer for all people.”

The reverend added, “They told a false narrative, extolling two individuals who fought to keep the institution of slavery alive in this country. They were intended to elevate the Confederacy, and they completely ignored the millions of Black Americans who have fought so hard and struggled so long to claim their birthright as equal citizens.”

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