Cathedral to Unveil Transformative Racial-Justice Stained Glass Windows
WASHINGTON – On September 23, 2023, Washington National Cathedral will unveil its transformative racial-justice-themed stained glass windows, created by world-renowned artist Kerry James Marshall. The reimagined windows—titled “Now and Forever” — signify a new chapter in the Cathedral’s historic legacy of art and architecture, symbolizing its dedication to serving as a sacred gathering space where all Americans can witness themselves reflected in the building’s expanding art and iconography.
In addition, celebrated poet, author, scholar and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander has composed a new poem titled “American Song” that will be engraved on stone tablets beneath Marshall’s window installation, replacing the previous stone tablets that paid tribute to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Confederate generals.
The newly designed windows replace windows that honored Lee and Jackson, which contained two depictions of the Confederate battle flag; those windows were removed in 2017. The Cathedral’s commission represents Marshall’s first time working with stained glass as a medium, and the windows will be one of only three permanent public exhibitions of Marshall’s art in the United States.
- READ MORE about the history, timeline and dedication details.
Kerry James Marshall has created new windows focused on racial justice 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.” Now completed, the newly installed racial justice windows will remain a permanent part of the Cathedral’s world-renowned sacred iconography. Marshall has taught painting at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been named to TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
“The unveiling of Kerry James Marshall’s windows and Elizabeth Alexander’s poem marks a significant moment in the Cathedral’s history—windows that celebrated division are being replaced by windows extolling the pursuit of justice,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. “The addition of these windows and the powerful words that accompany them allows us to tell a truer story of America, a story that confronts our past and invites all of us into a more inclusive and hopeful future.”
“Art isn’t only about aesthetics; it also can be a tool for reinterpreting familiar narratives and confronting uncomfortable truths,” said artist Kerry James Marshall. “It can also inspire progress, and these windows are a visual invitation to reflect on the meaning of America today.”
“‘American Song’ was composed to invite meditation in the unique sacred space of the National Cathedral, which also has a broad and crucial civic function,” said poet Elizabeth Alexander. “I am forever honored to have been invited to offer these words to live alongside Kerry James Marshall’s magnificent stained glass windows, making space for feeling and reflection on our multivocal history as we try to move forward into a more just and beautiful future.”
The poem will be hand-carved into limestone tablets over the next nine months, using a custom design by renowned lettering expert Nick Benson of the historic John Stevens Shop in Newport, R.I., and carved by the Cathedral’s stone carvers, Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl.
The original stained glass windows and carved inscriptions honoring Lee and Jackson were donated to the Cathedral by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and installed in 1953 on the southern face of the nave. Following the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, then-Dean Gary Hall called for the Lee-Jackson windows’ removal, objecting to the Confederate Battle Flag as “the primary symbol of a culture of white supremacy.” The Cathedral Chapter formed a special task force to consider the future of the Lee-Jackson Windows, which recommended that the windows should remain in place for at least two years to help catalyze “honest discussions about race and the legacy of slavery that the windows represent, and the alternative narratives that those windows reflect.”
In 2016, the Cathedral Chapter accepted the Task Force report, but also voted unanimously to immediately remove the Confederate battle flag imagery from the Lee-Jackson windows. Cathedral Dean Randolph Marshall Hollerith announced that the Cathedral would serve as a leading voice on racial justice and reconciliation issues, and in the following years, the Cathedral hosted a series of public programs centered on racial justice and American history.
In September 2017, following the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., the Lee-Jackson windows were deconsecrated and removed. The Cathedral committed to preserving the windows and looking for opportunities to use them as educational tools. During the summer of 2020, amidst the historic racial justice movement following the murder of George Floyd, the Cathedral agreed to loan the windows to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to be used in their special exhibition titled “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and its Legacies” from September 2021 to August 2022. The Lee-Jackson windows are now conserved and stored at the Cathedral.
Poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, cultural advocate, and Washington, D.C. native Dr. Elizabeth Alexander has devoted her career to crafting and conveying authentic representations of our shared history. She has taught at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she instructed for 15 years and led the African American Studies Department. Dr. Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration and has authored or co-authored fourteen books, including Pulitzer finalist works like “American Sublime” and “The Light of the World.”
In collaboration with Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, the Cathedral will host an interactive maker space incorporating the new windows. The maker space will be available in the Cathedral’s visitor lounge until November.
In addition, the Cathedral is releasing a new book, “Now and Forever,” which documents the history of the Lee-Jackson windows and the process of replacing them. The book is written by Kevin Eckstrom, an award-winning journalist who now serves as the Cathedral’s Chief Public Affairs Officer.
The new windows were fabricated by Washington National Cathedral’s stained glass artisan Andrew Goldkuhle. A descendant of a lineage deeply rooted in the craft of stained glass artistry, Goldkuhle’s ancestral connection traces back to his great-great-great grandfather, Franz Anton Goldkuhle, who established a renowned art studio in Germany specializing in church decoration. After his father, Dieter Goldkuhle, left Germany to contribute his skills to Washington National Cathedral, Andrew inherited the family trade in 2010 and continues the tradition of restoring and conserving stained glass windows at the Cathedral.
Support for the windows replacement project and related public programming to highlight the Foundation’s and the Cathedral’s ongoing commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is provided by the Ford Foundation and the Mellon Foundation (as part of the Foundation’s Monuments Project).
The Hearthland Foundation, founded by Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, is also funding the project, with support for the poetry-inscribed tablets.
A Windows Replacement Committee oversees the future of the former Lee-Jackson windows, co-chaired by Dr. Eric L. Motley, the deputy director of the National Gallery of Art, and Chase Rynd, former director of the National Building Museum. Additional members include Dean Hollerith; Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Class of 1940 Bicentennial Term Associate Professor, Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania; the Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral; the Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan, Canon for Worship at Washington National Cathedral; and the Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin Sr., Canon Missioner and Minister for Equality and Diversity at Washington National Cathedral; Blake Coleman, Class of 2021 graduate, National Cathedral School; Gwendolyn King, President, Podium Prose; and the Rev. Dr. James P. Wind, former president, The Alban Institute.
On Saturday, September 23, at 11 a.m. ET, Washington National Cathedral will host a public unveiling and dedication of the “Now and Forever” windows, featuring remarks from visual artist Kerry James Marshall and a special reading of “American Song” by poet Elizabeth Alexander. An open house featuring music, food trucks and other festivities will follow the dedication event.
Media are welcome to attend this event; all those interested must RSVP to [email protected].
Eleanor Donohue, 202-704-5840, [email protected]
About Washington National Cathedral
Grounded in the reconciling love of Jesus Christ, Washington National Cathedral is a house of prayer for all people, conceived by our founders to serve as a great church for national purposes.