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Artist Named to Create Replacement for Robert E. Lee Stained Glass Window at Washington National Cathedral

The dean of the cathedral said a replacement will help correct the “false narrative of what America once was”

The Washington National Cathedral has selected contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall to create a replacement for the stained-glass window that was removed because it had Confederate images.

Marshall, a MacArthur Fellow in 1997, was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and has a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design. According to ThoughtCo, “he broke ground for Black artists by rising to the upper echelon of the art world while remaining steadfastly dedicated to presenting work that explores the Black experience in America.”

This will be his first work on stained glass.

“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,” Marshall said in a statement.

In collaboration with poet Elizabeth Alexander, Marshall will create a new stained glass window with inscriptions for the cathedral’s southern wall. The replacement window will have a racial justice theme.

In 2017, the cathedral removed two original windows because they featured Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson following a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Critics said the generals were depicted with saint-like reverence and also objected to the Confederate flag that was a part of the artwork.

After its removal, the Robert E. Lee window was loaned to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September of 2016. It was part of an exhibit titled “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies.” The museum said the window stands for “myth-building and the nationwide intimidation of African Americans through the embrace of Confederate symbols.”

It is scheduled to be on display at the museum until Aug. 21, 2022, when it will be returned to the cathedral and stored away from public view.

The cathedral, also the seat of the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and Diocese of Washington, often serves as the setting for major national events,” per AP News. The location “is particularly significant in the massive neo-Gothic cathedral, which is filled with iconography depicting the American story in glass, stone and other media, with images ranging from presidents to famous cultural figures and state symbols.”

The window has been covered by plywood since 2017. Both windows were deconsecrated.

In a Sept. 22 statement, Very Reverand Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, “explained that while the window no longer is part of the Cathedral’s sacred fabric, he hopes it can nonetheless help educate the public about our country’s racist past and point all Americans toward a more just and inclusive future.”

Hollerith said replacing the window was necessary to correct the “false narrative of what America once was.”

“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,” he said. “We’re excited to share a new and more complete story.”

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