Confederate Generals out, Racial Justice In: National Cathedral Replaces Stained-Glass Windows

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Washington National Cathedral on Saturday unveiled new stained-glass windows replacing images of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The new windows, titled “Now and Forever,” are part of the church’s initiative to highlight racial justice and to display the struggle of black Americans to attain freedom after the conclusion of the Civil War.

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The display was created by renowned artist Kerry James Marshall and stained-glass artisan Andrew Goldkuhle. The removal of the Confederate-themed windows came in response to criticism that they elevated the Confederacy while neglecting the significance of the Civil Rights movement and the contributions of black Americans.

The landmark Washington National Cathedral unveiled new stained-glass windows Saturday with a theme of racial justice, filling the space that had once held four windows honoring Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The new windows depict a march for justice by African Americans, descendants of the very people who would have remained in slavery after the Civil War if the side for which the officers fought had prevailed.

The cathedral had removed the old windows after Confederate symbols featured prominently in recent racist violence.

The dedication service for the new windows featured prayers, Bible readings, speeches interwoven with gospel music, and others. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson read excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’sLetter from Birmingham Jail” during the proceedings.

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Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, read excerpts from the Rev. Martin Luther King’ Jr.'s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” from 1963.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she read from King’s famed message while jailed in Alabama. “The goal of America is freedom. ... We will win our freedom.” A week earlier, she had spoken at the 60th anniversary of Birmingham church bombing that killed four young Black girls.

Marshall, the artist behind the new windows, is known for his works that address black culture and history. He said the art is a celebration of the end of the Civil War and the freedom it brought about for formerly enslaved black people.

Kerry James Marshall, whose works have adorned the walls of national galleries and celebrities’ mansions, couldn’t imagine charging Washington National Cathedral his usual fee to replace its Confederate-themed windows. Instead, he requested a commission symbolizing 1865, the year the nation’s last enslaved African Americans were liberated at the conclusion of the Civil War.

“It’s a full payment that I can accept as a completely free individual, able to make decisions about myself and the things I do and who I do it for,” Marshall said. “I’m completely free. And that’s what the end of the Civil War represents on a lot of levels.”

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The design of the windows features black Americans marching with signs that read “Fairness,” “No foul play,” and other messages intended to embody the spirit of justice and equality under the law. The artist said his objective was to convey that justice is not something that should be taken for granted; it is something that requires active effort.

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