National Cathedral Replaces Images of Robert E. Lee

Dedication ceremony christens racial justice theme in stained-glass windows
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 23, 2023 4:00 PM CDT
National Cathedral Replaces Images of Robert E. Lee
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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. 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 AP reports.

The dedication service was attended by clergy from the Washington area's historically Black churches, as well as leaders of social justice organizations. The prayers, Bible readings, and brief speeches were interspersed with gospel music and spirituals, as well as the contemporary song, "Heal Our Land." Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, read from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" from 1963. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," she read. The original windows, complete with Confederate battle flags, depicted Lee and Jackson as saintlike figures, with Lee bathed in rays of heavenly light and Jackson welcomed by trumpets into paradise after his death.

The new windows, titled "Now and Forever," are based on a design by artist Kerry James Marshall. Stained-glass artisan Andrew Goldkuhle crafted the windows based on that design. In the new work, African Americans are shown marching—on foot or in a wheelchair—from left to right across the four windows. Some march in profile, some directly face the viewer with signs proclaiming "Fairness" and "No foul play." Light floods in through the sky-bright panes of white and blue above the figures. Marshall invited anyone viewing the new windows "to imagine oneself as a subject and an author of a never-ending story is that is still yet to be told." The old windows are now stored by the cathedral, per the AP.

story continues below

The setting is particularly significant in the massive neo-Gothic cathedral, which regularly hosts ceremonies tied to major national events. It is filled with iconography depicting the American story in glass, stone, and other media. Other images include presidents, famous cultural figures, and state symbols. But the Lee and Jackson windows "were telling a story that was not a true story," according to the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral. They were installed in 1953 and donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Hollerith said the old windows were "antithetical to our call to be a house of prayer for all," adding, "There is a lot of work yet to be done."

(Read more National Cathedral stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.