New National Cathedral windows shift from Confederacy theme to racial justice

The "Now and Forever" Windows (Daniela Lobo/ҹֱ)

Rev. Leonard Hamlin Sr. says the windows help the Cathedral truly be a house of prayer for all people.

Four new stained-glass windows at the Washington National Cathedral place the struggle for racial justice among the depictions of biblical scenes that illuminate the church’s nave. 

The windows, created by artist Kerry James Marshall and titled “Now and Forever,” depict a group of Black protesters marching while holding signs with phrases including “No Foul Play” and “Fairness.” The cathedral unveiled the windows Saturday at a service that included poetry, hymns, and prayers.  

The windows are accompanied by an original poem written by Elizabeth Alexander, the president of the, a private foundation focused on arts, culture, and humanities.

The windows replaced previous panes that honored Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. 

“Being able to install the ‘Now and Forever’ windows helps the cathedral live into its mission of being a house of prayer for all people,” said the Rev. Leonard Hamlin Sr., the canon missioner for the cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral is the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

An excerpt of "American Song" by poet Elizabeth Alexander.
An excerpt of “American Song” by poet Elizabeth Alexander. (Daniela Lobo/ҹֱ)

The previous windows were a fixture of the cathedral since 1953 when the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated them to memorialize and honor Confederate leaders and soldiers. The initial call for the windows’ removal came in 2015 after the fatal  shooting of nine Black worshippers at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, according to the cathedral’s. The Confederate panes were removed following the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charleston, Virginia.

Hamlin said this is the right time to install the windows, as it allows the church to facilitate community conversations.

“It allows us to tell a richer and fuller story for those who are coming to visit us,” he said. “I believe it would bring the community together to think about our present condition.”

The ceremony on Saturday drew a crowd of almost 900 attendees on a particularly rainy day. Among the guests were clergy from D.C.’s historically Black churches, political figures, and leaders of social justice organizations. The speakers ranged from community members to lawmakers, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who read excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Grayce Wiggins, a member of the church and regular attendee of its services, said she came to the event to witness what she considers a moment of inclusion for Black people.

Kerry James Marshall and Elizabeth Alexander admire the windows.
Kerry James Marshall and Elizabeth Alexander admire the windows. (Daniela Lobo/ҹֱ)

“This is a full-circle moment where we get to reflect on the next generation and centuries beyond,” Wiggins said, as she took pictures of the windows. “This will be a perpetual memory on why justice and fairness are so important.”

Guy Molock, a member of the Beloved Community Church in Accokeek, Maryland, said the windows represent the struggle and injustice that continues for communities of color.

“I think it’s really important that these windows replaced what I considered to be an injustice,” Molock said, referring to the previous Confederate panes. “For me, it’s all about continuing to fight for justice and liberty for people of color.”

In 2021, the cathedral announced that Marshall agreed to create new racial-justice-themed stained-glass windows. Marshall is known for his paintings of Black figures, with many of his pieces exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. According to the cathedral’s, this was the first time Marshall worked with stained-glass as a medium.

During his brief remarks, Marshall said he hoped his artwork was the first step of many in continuing a growing conversation about the current political environment.

“I hope the themes that the windows propose continue to be a catalyst for the kind of transformation the cathedral and the nation stand for,” Marshall said. “I hope we all as members of this culture and society embody and bring forward ourselves.” 

Crowds Around Windows
Crowds gather around the “Now and Forever” windows. (Daniela Lobo/TheWash)

The Rev. Randy Hollerith, the current dean of the cathedral, said it was a rare event to have the institution add new stained-glass windows. He considers this to be a significant moment to do so, as it brings the opportunity for racial reconciliation.

“Around the country, we’ve done a lot in taking down monuments and statues that represent Confederate messages,” Hollerith said. “We’re pleased to be among the ones that put something that tells a different story and allows a broader conversation.”

The cathedral said it is conducting a comprehensive iconography review with the goal that all art in the church reflects every member of the community and accounts for all stories told.

Daniela Lobo

Daniela Lobo currently covers the Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights neighborhoods. Prior to ҹֱ, she worked as a content producer at NBC10 Boston and Telemundo Nueva Inglaterra. Daniela is currently pursuing her masters's degree in journalism and public affairs at American University.

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular

Most discussed