Artist Kerry James Marshall has been tapped to design the replacements for a set of stained glass windows commemorating Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the Washington National Cathedral.
The panels, which include religious and military motifs, were removed four years ago. Their impending replacements, designed by Marshall and poet Elizabeth Alexander, will instead focus on themes of civil rights and racial justice.
“The windows became barriers for people to feel fully welcome here,” the Very Reverend Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington, DC cathedral, told the New York Times. Instead of displaying in the cathedral, they will be exhibited in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, beginning with the Lee panel this weekend.
Recent years have seen a sea change of public disapproval of public Confederate monuments. Their continued presence has sparked heated, lasting debates nationwide, as the US grapples with its history of chattel slavery and Native genocide, and its continued legacy of racist violence. In 2015, the racist mass murder of nine Black parishioners of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, renewed national conversations of white supremacy; a march of white supremacists brandishing flaming tiki torches through Charlottesville, Virginia, was centered around a statue of General Lee in the city center.
Marshall, who is based in Chicago, is known for using rich, varied shades of black to portray skin tones in his elaborate portraits; his canvases often explore themes of Black identity, taking aesthetic inspiration from the art historical canon. The artist’s fame skyrocketed after a traveling retrospective in 2016 and 2017, and he has garnered auction prices of up to $21.1 million.
Alexander is president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her accompanying poem will be etched in stone nearby to the windows.
The cathedral’s new additions are expected to be revealed in 2023.