The National Cathedral has announced that painter Kerry James Marshall will design replacements for the Cathedral’s “confederate windows,” which once depicted the likenesses of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The windows—first addressed by the Cathedral as a problem in 2015, and finally removed in 2017—will be replaced with creations 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,” Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith said in a press conference this morning.
It’s no small task for Marshall, who is best known for his artwork depicting the African-American experience (he was named to the TIME 100 in 2o17, and won a MacArthur genius grant). Although the windows are relatively small compared to the other works in the Cathedral, Marshall recognizes the challenge of “not just making a window, but taking the space the windows occupy and creating something that draws people in and lets them know the story you’re trying to tell.”
Marshall hasn’t commented on the exact details of his vision for the windows; his first visit to the Cathedral only happened this Wednesday. A self-described “religious polyglot,” Marshall said he thinks his personal experiences with several churches and faiths—Catholic, Baptist churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, and Islam—will provide a broad range of concepts for him to draw on in the work. This will be Marshall’s first time working with stained glass, and the Cathedral is hoping for a finished product in 2023.
Pulitzer finalist and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander will write a poem that will be inscribed in the stone beneath the windows. The Mellon Foundation donated $1 million for the windows, the Hearthland Foundation has provided $150,000 for the poetry, and the Ford Foundation has given $250,000 for public programming. DC native Alexander is not being paid, and Marshall is taking a symbolic paycheck of $18.65 (the year the Civil War ended) since he didn’t want the Cathedral to have to worry about cost.
The issue of the windows—they were a donation from the United Daughters of the Confederacy and installed in 1953—was first raised by former Cathedral Dean Gary Hall in 2015, following the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. After 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the windows were finally taken down and boarded up.
Currently, the Lee window is on loan to the Smithsonian, where it will be displayed in the Museum of African American History and Culture as part of its “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and its Legacies” exhibit. It will be returned to the custody of the Cathedral when that exhibit closes. There are currently no further plans regarding the future of the removed windows.