In 1953, following a 22-year effort to erect a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral, the United Daughters of the Confederacy finished the job. The tribute took the form of a set of four stained-glass windows that depicted Lee, fellow General Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate-themed imagery (Confederate flag included).
The artwork more or less flew under the radar until 2015, when a white supremacist murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, prompting National Cathedral clergy members to consider removing the windows. The task force created to rule on the matter initially decided to keep them, arguing that they would “serve as a profound witness to the cathedral’s own complex history in relationship to race” and “provide a catalyst for honest discussions about race and the legacy of slavery and for addressing the uncomfortable and too-often avoided issues of race in America” [PDF].
The force vowed to revisit the matter in two years’ time, which they did: After white supremacists tore violently through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, National Cathedral officials took down the Confederate windows. For the last four years, plywood has stood in their place.
Now, as The Washington Post reports, the church has finally announced plans to fill the void with stained-glass windows designed by Kerry James Marshall, an internationally acclaimed painter known for capturing the Black experience in America. It’ll be Marshall’s first time working with stained glass as a medium. According to a press release, the cathedral’s goal for the new installation is to convey “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.”
The cathedral has also commissioned Elizabeth Alexander, Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural poet and current president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to compose a poem that will be inscribed on stone tablets near Marshall’s windows. (The two artists happened to have been friends for the last three decades.)
As for when you can expect to see the new additions, it will be a couple of years—they’re slated to be finished sometime in 2023.
[h/t The Washington Post]