Leaders at Washington National Cathedral, the closest thing in the country’s capital to an official church, have decided after two years of study and debate to remove two stained-glass windows honoring Confederate figures Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Saying the stories told in the two 4-by-6-foot windows were painful, distracting and one-sided, a majority of the Cathedral’s governing body voted to remove the windows Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, stone masons were at work putting up scaffolding to begin taking out the art that was installed 64 years ago.
“This isn’t simply a conversation about the history of the windows, but a very real conversation in the wider culture about how the Confederate flag and the Old South narrative have been lively symbols today for white supremacists. We’d be made of stone ourselves if we weren’t paying attention to that,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes the cathedral.
The cathedral is the official seat of the Episcopal Church, a small Protestant denomination that historically has counted many of America’s elite as members, including presidents from George Washington and James Madison to George H.W. Bush. It is the second largest church building in the country and is typically host to official events like presidential funerals and official interfaith ceremonies on presidential swearing-in days, including that of President Trump.
The removal of the windows, which will take a couple days, reflects a flurry of national debate over whether to take down monuments, statues or art that honor Confederates in both public and private spaces across the country. The issue gained prominence after a mass killing at a black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, and then again last month after a deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville. Several dozen monuments have been either removed or a debate to remove them is on the table, in places from New Orleans and Baltimore to Helena, Mont., and Los Angeles.
Budde and Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith said the governing board voted “overwhelmingly” Tuesday to remove the windows, but acknowledged there were opponents who felt the windows are part of the cathedral and U.S. history and could be contextualized rather than removed.
A call to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which raised money for the initial windows along with a private donor, was not immediately returned Wednesday.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post – Michelle Boorstein