This Headline Caught My Attention – But Not For The Obvious Reason

The “famed cathedral” in the headline is Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, more formally known as the “Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.”

I’d assumed the “famed cathedral” that the article was referring to was Washington National Cathedral.

That’s not what caught my attention.

The “artist” in the headline is contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall, “renowned for his wide-ranging works depicting African American life.”

That’s not what caught my attention, either.

What I focused on – and started wondering about – was…

What the heck are Confederate windows doing in Washington National Cathedral?

The windows depict Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee (two left panels) and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson:

Here’s how they looked in the cathedral until 2016, when things changed (more about that to come):

As for how the windows came to be there, it took quite a bit of research online, and at first the information was scanty, like this, from a recent Washington Post article:

“…the Lee and Jackson windows…were donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and installed in 1953.”

“United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

A name that might spark approval in some, condemnation in others.

Who are they?

It seems to depend on whom you ask.

According to their website,

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC):

“…was founded in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 10, 1894, by Mrs. Caroline Meriwether Goodlett of Tennessee as Founder and Mrs. Lucian H. (Anna Davenport) Raines of Georgia as Co- Founder.”

“…the Objectives of the society are Historical, Benevolent, Educational, Memorial and Patriotic and include the following goals:

  1. To honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States.
  2. To protect, preserve and mark the places made historic by Confederate valor.
  3. To collect and preserve the material for a truthful history of the War Between the States.
  4. To record the part taken by Southern women in patient endurance of hardship and patriotic devotion during the struggle and in untiring efforts after the War during the reconstruction of the South.
  5. To fulfill the sacred duty of benevolence toward the survivors and toward those dependent upon them.
  6. To assist descendants of worthy Confederates in securing proper education.
  7. To cherish the ties of friendship among the members of the Organization.”

Here’s a different view about the UDC, from a New York Times opinion piece:

Lee window detail.

“In truth, the organization did more to advance white supremacist ideology during the first several decades of the 20th century than any other organization in American history.

“Its leaders glorified the Ku Klux Klan.  They romanticized slavery as a benevolent institution that featured happy, faithful and well-fed bondsmen and women.  They spoon-fed these values to the young through racist primers and essay competitions that rewarded children for parroting white supremacist views.  This distorted version of history nurtured a generation of well-known segregationists and formed the basis of Southern resistance to the civil rights movement.”

And this, from Smithsonian Magazine on September 24, 2021:

Jackson window detail.

“‘The movement launched over a century ago by the UDC to install Confederate monuments and memorials in public places was not an innocent act of heritage, pride or civic beautification,” National Museum of African American History and Culture curator Paul Gardullo tells Smithsonian magazine.

“Instead, he explains, ‘It was a concerted effort to mark and embed a false myth of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction across the national landscape in an attempt to help reinforce segregation, Jim Crow, and racial intimidation and terror of African Americans.’”

Let’s go back to 1953, when the UDC’s Confederate windows were installed in Washington National Cathedral.

I really had to do some digging for this, but found some plausible information on a website called “Emerging Civil War,” which claims to offer a “fresh perspectives on America’s defining event.”  Here are the articles:

I also found information in this 2002 Washington Post article:

Here’s some of what I learned:

“In 1953, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy finally had the money to install stained glass windows of Lee and Jackson at the National Cathedral, the cathedral was delighted to take their money.”

The amount of money the UDC offered was $130,000, about $1.2 million today.  It appears that that funding paid for the Lee window, as the plaque below it read,

“…gratefully built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

The plaque below the Jackson window said it was erected by the UDC “and his admirers from South and North.”

“Records show that a northern philanthropist, Wall Street banker James Sheldon, matched the group’s funds for the Jackson window.”

One of the articles described the Lee and Jackson windows as having special appeal to UDC members for their “ability to memorialize their organization and the legacy of the Confederacy,” and quoted from a history of the UDC about the windows:

Lee window detail.

“Here, where the nation’s heroes are to be honored side by side, the patriotism of the Confederacy shall have recognition.  No boy from either side of the line must ever stand in this great gathering of soldiers and wonder at the absence of a Southern hero.  One must be there lest the question be:  were the men who wore the Gray really patriots; did they fight for their country to keep it the way their forebears founded it?  They were and they did; and, for their sake, their beloved leader must have place where the great spirits of our nation’s history are to be enshrined.”

At the dedication service in 1953, President Eisenhower said Lee was a man…

“…who could be a soldier who could fight for his ideals in which he firmly believed but who remained, at the same time, a great noble character.”

But even with all this attention, apparently the Lee and Jackson windows didn’t draw crowds of admirers; in the 2002 Washington Post article, a cathedral spokeswoman said,

“‘Most people are surprised when they find out we have windows for Lee and Jackson.  Not many people come asking to see them.  They just kind of stumble on them.’”

The windows stayed in place, often unnoted and unremarked upon, until 2015.

The windows hadn’t changed, but the world had.

Jackson window detail.

In 2015, the cathedral’s then-dean, the Rev. Gary Hall, said:

“The windows were installed in 1953 to ‘foster reconciliation between parts of the nation that had been divided by the Civil War.  While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent.  

“‘There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community.  We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought.’”

In 2016:

The Confederate battle flags were removed and replaced with plain glass…

…and the church would “hold a period of public discussion on issues of race, slavery and justice and revisit the question of how to treat other depictions of the Civil War on the windows.”

Then, in 2017:

“Officials at Washington National Cathedral will remove two stained-glass windows that pay tribute to the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, a decision reached after two years of discussion and made more urgent by the recent racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, VA.”

“… [the windows] will be cleaned, conserved, stored and potentially moved to another part of the church to be used in an educational setting unaffiliated with worship.”

“While cathedral leaders look for replacement designs, the windows will be covered with wood that is painted to emulate the stone around it.”

“The United Daughters of the Confederacy did not return requests for comment, and Dean Hollerith said that he had not heard from the organization in an official capacity about the decision.”

Employees set up scaffolding to remove the stained-glass windows in 2017:

And covered the empty spaces:

Which brings us to September 2021 and the headline that started this post:

I went back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy website to see if they ever commented on the alteration of, and then removal of, the Lee and Jackson windows.

I didn’t find a direct reference, but on their homepage is a lengthy “Statement from the President General” that concludes with this:

“Join us in denouncing hate groups and affirming that Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of our shared American history and should remain in place.”

So now I know what the heck Confederate windows were doing in Washington National Cathedral – how they came to be installed, and now, removed.

I’ll leave the rights or wrongs of it to wiser heads than mine.

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