National Cathedral commissions racial justice-themed windows to replace Confederate iconography

By David Paulsen
Posted Sep 23, 2021

[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral has commissioned a racial justice-themed replacement for its stained glass depicting two Confederate generals, windows that were removed four years ago amid a national reckoning with the white supremacist legacy of Civil War-era symbols.

The stained glass depicting Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was installed in 1953 and removed in September 2017, after the deadly clashes between racist hate groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, the window honoring Lee is on loan to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as part of “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies.”

The exhibit of more than 175 post-Civil War objects and 300 photos will be on display at the Washington, D.C., museum from Sept. 24 through August 2022.

“We sincerely hope that an honest examination of the painful legacy represented in these windows will help all Americans forge a clearer understanding of our past,” National Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith said in a Sept. 22 news release. “Looking to our future, we are committed to working to help unite this country around a shared identity of inclusion, equality and true justice for all.”

On Sept. 23, Washington National Cathedral revealed what will take the Confederate windows’ place. The cathedral commissioned new stained glass windows designed by Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall, known for his everyday depictions of African American life and culture. The stone next to the windows will be inscribed with a newly commissioned work by poet Elizabeth Alexander, whose writing explores history, and race and gender politics.

“Cathedrals are never finished,” Hollerith told the Washington Post. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to add beauty and meaning to this place when it’s already full of so much beauty and meaning. We are excited to have these two artists with us and grateful for their willingness to undertake this project.”

Marshall began designing the new windows this week and is expected to finish by 2023, according to the Post. The windows then will be made and installed on the southern wall of the main worship space.

National Cathedral windows

Stained glass fabricator Dieter Goldkuhle, who worked with his late father to install many of the stained glass windows at Washington National Cathedral, replaces an image of the Confederate battle flag after cathedral leaders decided in 2016 that the symbol of racial supremacy had no place inside the cathedral. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral first began a period of discernment over its windows honoring Lee and Jackson in the wake of the June 2015 massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gunman Dylann Roof’s fondness for the Confederate flag sparked a broad reexamination of the flag as a controversial symbol of the South that had been co-opted by white supremacists. The cathedral responded by removing depictions of the Confederate flag from the Lee and Jackson windows.

Two years later, the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over removal of that city’s statues of Lee and Jackson left one counterprotester dead and prompted renewed scrutiny of Confederate symbols in public places, including at Episcopal institutions. Washington National Cathedral chose to expedite its decision to remove its windows depicting the generals.

“Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral,” cathedral and diocesan leaders said at the time.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at