Home Christian News National Cathedral Windows Shift From Themes of Confederacy to Racial Justice

National Cathedral Windows Shift From Themes of Confederacy to Racial Justice

National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral unveiled four newly created and installed stained glass windows on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. The previous windows were removed in part due to controversy over the Confederate figures that were featured in the images. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

WASHINGTON (RNS) — New stained-glass windows depicting racial justice protests by African Americans have replaced the panes honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at the Washington National Cathedral.

The new additions, titled “Now and Forever” and designed by artist Kerry James Marshall, were officially revealed in a ceremony on Saturday (Sept. 23), two years to the day from when cathedral officials announced Marshall would design them.

The colorful panes feature signs that say “Fairness” and “No Foul Play,” held by Black figures wearing white shoes. The stone below them will be inscribed with the words from the original poem “American Song,” penned by Elizabeth Alexander, the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The service began with a soloist’s rendition of “Balm in Gilead” and a procession that included Marshall and Alexander along with robed clergy. The dean of the cathedral, Randy Hollerith, then described the new windows — and the process of replacing the old ones.

“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,” he said, describing the panes as elevating the Confederacy and ignoring Black Americans.

By contrast, the new additions, Hollerith said, are “windows and poetry that tell a different story, that lift up the values of justice and fairness and the ongoing struggle for equality among all God’s children. I’m so grateful to Kerry and Elizabeth for their willingness to share their art with us here at the cathedral, art that we hope and pray will live on here for centuries.”

The hour-and-a-half ceremony drew a crowd of more than 850 people on a particularly rainy day. Attendees included representatives of the Union of Black Episcopalians and leaders of several historic Black denominations. Harvard historian Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. read from the New Testament book of Romans about hating evil, and California Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Marshall’s stepdaughter, read a passage from Ecclesiastes that began, “For everything there is a season.”

A surprise reader was Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who intoned some of the words from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

“We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom,” she read. “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson addresses an unveiling and dedication ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral for new stained-glass windows, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson addresses an unveiling and dedication ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral for new stained-glass windows, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Though Marshall, who was born in Birmingham in 1955, made remarks just before the dedication and blessing of the windows, he said he preferred his artwork to speak for itself.

“I am deeply humbled, incredibly grateful for the opportunity,” he said, “and hope that the themes that the windows propose continue to be a catalyst for the kind of transformation the cathedral stands for, that the nation stands for, for what I hope we all as members of this culture and society will embody and stand for and bring forward ourselves.”

He also thanked his collaborators, including Alexander — with whom he walked hand in hand when they joined the retiring procession at the service’s conclusion — and Andrew Goldkuhle, the stained-glass artist who cut and placed the more than 800 hundred pieces of colored glass to fit the design Marshall had created.

Kerry James Marshall signed and dated the new window's which can be spotted below the shoes in one of the four complete panel's he designed and created (?). Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

Kerry James Marshall signed and dated the new windows, which can be spotted below the shoes in one of the four complete panels he designed. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral