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National Cathedral picks Black artist to replace Confederate stained-glass windows

Kerry James Marshall will make his first foray from painting into stained glass to replace two panels that formerly depicted Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

Washington National Cathedral announced Thursday that it had selected the painter Kerry James Marshall to design racial justice-themed replacements for stained-glass depictions of Confederate generals.

"The Cathedral's commission represents Marshall's first time working with stained-glass as a medium, and the windows are expected to be his first permanent public exhibition anywhere in the country," the cathedral wrote in a news release Thursday.

Marshall, who is Black, is known for his painting work depicting Black people in everyday settings.

Image: Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall.Washington National Cathedral

According to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, a retrospective of the first 35 years of Marshall's career hosted there in 2017 showed "images of Black subjects going about their daily business, presented with utter equality and humanity."

"Marshall's figurative paintings have been joyful in their consistent portrayal of African Americans," the museum wrote.

Marshall's "racial justice"-themed panels at the cathedral will replace two, installed in 1953, that depicted slaveholding Confederate generals Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

The panels were removed in 2017 after the cathedral concluded that they "are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation."

In 2015, the U.S. Capitol had eight statues donated by states honoring Confederate sympathizers and slavery proponents.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned the statues and called for their removal last year. The House voted this year to remove over 10 statues that honored or paid tribute to the Confederacy, but inaction in the Senate killed the bill.

Washington National Cathedral added that the poet Elizabeth Alexander will write a poem to replace the stone tablets that previously "venerated the lives of Confederate soldiers."

Both the panels and the stone tablets are expected to be permanently installed in 2023.