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National Cathedral unveils racial justice-themed windows, replacing Confederate ones

Light shines through new stained-glass windows with a theme of racial justice during an unveiling and dedication ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral for the windows on Saturday, Sept. 23 in Washington.
Nick Wass
/
AP
Light shines through new stained-glass windows with a theme of racial justice during an unveiling and dedication ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral for the windows on Saturday, Sept. 23 in Washington.

Six years after two stained-glass windows that honored Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson were taken down, the Washington National Cathedral has unveiled the pair of windows that are taking their place.

The windows, titled "Now and Forever," were created by artist Kerry James Marshall and center around racial justice. The images show a group of protesters marching in different directions and holding up large signs that read "Fairness" and "No Foul Play."

The new windows "lift up the values of justice and fairness and the ongoing struggle for equality among all God's great children," the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the cathedral's dean, said on Saturday at the unveiling.

He said the previous 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."

"They told a false narrative extolling two individuals who fought to keep the institution of slavery alive in this country," he added.

The earlier windows had been a fixture at the house of worship in Washington, D.C., for more than 60 years. Created in 1953, the windows pay tribute to Lee and Jackson, showcasing scenes from their lives as well as the Confederate battle flag.

After nine Black worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina were killed by a white supremacist in 2015, the cathedral's dean at the time, Gary Hall, called for the Confederate tribute windows to be removed.

The Confederate flags were removed in 2016 and the windows were taken down in 2017. The cathedral also launched the search for its replacement. In 2021, the cathedral selected Kerry James Marshall as the artist tasked with creating racial justice-themed windows. Marshall, whose paintings have been at the Met, the National Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, has devoted his career illustrating Black lives and Black culture on canvas.

On Saturday, the Washington National Cathedral debuted the new windows, as well as a poem inscribed in stone tablets near the windows titled "American Song" by Elizabeth Alexander. The poem was specifically composed for the occasion. Here is a selection from the poem:

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.