Washington National Cathedral to Replace Stained-Glass Windows Depicting Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson With Work Honoring African Americans’ Struggle for Justice

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Details of stained-glass windows depicting Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that were removed from the Washington National Cathedral in 2017. Photo by Ken Cobb/© Washington National Cathedral

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Four years after the Washington National Cathedral removed stained-glass windows depicting Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the cathedral will announce Thursday (Sept. 23) that the windows will be filled with work by multimedia artist Kerry James Marshall honoring African Americans’ struggle for justice.

The windows, which are expected to be installed in 2023, will be funded by a more than $1 million contribution from the Mellon Foundation.

In a separate development, it was also announced Mellon’s president, the poet Elizabeth Alexander, will contribute new verse to be inscribed in the stone around the windows. The poetry project is funded by actress Kate Capshaw and her husband, Steven Spielberg, through the Hearthland Foundation.

The new windows will be the first work in stained glass produced by Marshall, whom Kevin Eckstrom, chief communications officer for the cathedral, described as “one of the contemporary artistic scribes of Black life in America.”

Marshall, known mostly for his paintings of Black subjects, was given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 2013, and in 2016 a retrospective of his career opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and later traveled to the Met Breuer in New York City.

The Confederate-themed windows were added to the cathedral’s stained glass in 1953 with the support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that sought to honor the memory of veterans who fought for the South. The windows’ removal had been under consideration since the 2015 shooting of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME  Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but were taken down in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The Lee window has been loaned to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and will be featured in the exhibition “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies,” which is set to open on Friday.

While several statues of Confederate officers have come down in recent years, Eckstrom pointed out the cathedral windows “will be one of the first Confederate icons that has come down and been replaced with something else.”

In August 2020, a United Methodist church in Boise, Idaho, known as the Cathedral of the Rockies, deconsecrated a stained-glass window featuring Lee. In its place the church will honor Bishop Leontine Kelly, the first African American woman bishop in the United Methodist Church, according to the Rev. Duane Anders, pastor of the church.

Anders said the window will emphasize Kelly but also highlight the historic election of the first Hispanic American bishop and the first Japanese American bishop. All three were consecrated in the church’s sanctuary in a 1984 ceremony.

Source: Religion News Service