Washington National Cathedral announced that it will replace its former stained-glass windows featuring Confederate iconography, removed in 2017, with racial-justice themed windows created by world-renowned artist Kerry James Marshall, described by The New Yorker as “a virtuoso of landscape, portraiture, still-life, history painting, and other genres of the Western canon.”
The Cathedral’s commission represents Marshall’s first time working with stained-glass as a medium, and the windows are expected to be his first permanent public exhibition anywhere in the country.
The Cathedral removed windows featuring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – which were located along the southern face of its nave, or its main worship space – in September 2017, following the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the summer of 2020, amid the historic movement for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd, the Cathedral began collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to plan the public exhibition of the Robert E. Lee window.
“For nearly 70 years, these windows and their Confederate imagery told an incomplete story; they celebrated two generals, but they did nothing to address the reality and painful legacy of America’s original sin of slavery and racism. They represented a false narrative of what America once was and left out the painful truth of our history,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. “We’re excited to share a new and more complete story, to tell the truth about our past and to lift up who we aspire to be as a nation.”
Hollerith continues, “We are thrilled that Kerry James Marshall has agreed to lend his immense talents and creative vision to this important project. He is one of the greatest artists of our time, and we are honored to add his artistic legacy to the iconography of this Cathedral. To complement Mr. Marshall’s work, we welcome the words of Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, one of America’s great poets and a native Washingtonian, whose incredible ability to capture the pain of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow will be felt in our house of prayer through her inscribed words.”
Marshall—the artist and professor whose paintings depicting Black life in America have been sold, viewed, and showcased across the world for decades—will design the stained-glass windows that will replace the Lee/Jackson windows. His new windows will reflect the Cathedral’s stated desire for new windows that “capture both darkness and light, both the pain of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow, as well as the quiet and exemplary dignity of the African American struggle for justice and equality and the indelible and progressive impact it has had on American society.” Marshall has taught painting at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been named to TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
“This project is not just a job – I don’t need the work – or only a piece of art. It’s kind of a calling, and a real honor to be asked,” said artist Kerry James Marshall. “The themes that the Cathedral committee articulated set a great challenge for me as an artist and as a Black American man. The goal is to make truly meaningful additions to an already rich and magnificent institution, to make the changes they have embraced truly worth the effort.”