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Washington National Cathedral reveals new racial justice stained glass windows to replace those that honored Confederate generals

By Dakin Andone, CNN

(CNN) — Washington National Cathedral on Saturday revealed four new “racial-justice themed” stained-glass windows to replace others honoring Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The new windows are titled “Now and Forever” and show demonstrators during a march or protest. Some demonstrators carry signs that say “Fairness” and “No Foul Play” as the group marches across the four windows.

“Today’s event has been organized to highlight one instance where a change of symbolism is meant to repair a breach of America’s creation promise of liberty and justice for all,” Kerry James Marshall, the artist who designed the windows, said at the dedication.

The windows “reinforce those ideals and aspirations embodied in the Cathedral’s structure and its mission to remind us that we can be better, and do better than we did yesterday, today,” said Marshall, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient known for depictions of Black lives.

It was a moment that had been years in the making.

The cathedral belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington but is often used for national services. Leaders first began considering replacing the windows in 2015, when then-Dean Gary Hall called for their removal after a White supremacist fatally shot nine Black churchgoers at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina.

For decades, the windows displayed within the cathedral’s main worship space depicted Lee, Jackson and scenes from their lives and military careers. They were installed in 1953 to “foster reconciliation” between the North and the South.

While that sentiment was “good and noble,” Hall wrote, “the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent.”

“Simply put, these windows were offensive, and they were a barrier to the ministry of this cathedral, and they were antihetical to our call to be a house of prayer for all people,” the current dean, the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, said during the new windows’ dedication Saturday.

“They told a false narrative, extolling two individuals who fought to keep the institution of slavery alive in this country,” Hollerith said. “They were intended to elevate the Confederacy, and they completely ignored the millions of Black Americans who have fought so hard and struggled so long to claim their birthright as equal citizens.”

Some of those windows included Confederate flags, and the cathedral’s leadership voted in 2016 to remove those panes and replace them with plain glass. The window were ultimately removed in 2017 after a White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to the death of a counterprotester.

The windows were deconsecrated – a religious process to remove their sacred character – and are stored at the Cathedral. In the wake of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, the cathedral loaned windows depicting Robert E. Lee to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for a yearlong exhibit on the Reconstruction Era.

Saturday’s dedication came two years to the day after the cathedral announced Marshall had been chosen to design the new windows. Andrew Goldkuhle – whose father had fabricated dozens of the cathedral’s windows – fabricated the new windows, which also feature details hand-painted by Marshall.

The National Cathedral commissioned the writer Elizabeth Alexander to write a poem that will in the coming months be carved into the stone beneath the new windows. Titled “American Song,” it reads, in part:

“A single voice raised, then another. We

must tell the truth about our history.

How did we get here and where do we go?

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the windows depicting Robert E. Lee were loaned to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for an exhibition on the Reconstruction Era.

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