The Washington National Cathedral, which has become one of the nation's most prominent religious destinations, announced Wednesday that it plans to remove two Confederate flags that have been part of the stained-glass windows for more than 60 years.
The windows depicting the two flags were installed in 1953, intended to pay homage to Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Officials with the cathedral stated that, while the flags will soon be removed, the color-rich windows will remain to "serve as a catalyst for the difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race that we need to have on the road to racial justice," the New York Times reported.
"Instead of simply taking the windows down and going on with business as usual," the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the cathedral's canon theologian, said, "the cathedral recognizes that, for now, they provide an opportunity for us to begin to write a new narrative on race and racial justice at the cathedral and perhaps for our nation."
As for when exactly the removal will take place, Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the interim dean of the cathedral, said it will happen "as soon as we can do it." Interestingly, according to Buddle, neither she nor the Rev. Gary Hall, the previous dean of the cathedral, were even aware the decades-old windows featured Confederate symbolism until last summer.
Hall called for their removal as soon as the revelation came.
"They were brought to our attention after the Charleston massacre last year," Buddle said, referring to the shooting at Emanual AME Church, a historically black church, that left nine dead. "That’s when it resurfaced in our consciousness that the Confederate flag was part of our stained-glass artistry."
The cathedral's decision is the latest in a series of actions taken to rid the public sphere of the historically significant yet controversial symbol.
The Confederate flag was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse one month after the Charleston shooting. In addition, Georgetown University, which is not far from the famous cathedral, has had difficulty dealing with the fact that, in 1838, it sold 272 slaves to Southern plantation owners.
The stained-glass artistry depicting Lee and Jackson was installed nearly one century after the conclusion of the Civil War and was propped up financially by the Daughters of the Confederacy and one donor from the North.
Buddle described the window as part of "the way the Civil War memory was encoded in American history in the 20th century."
"At the time it was publicized as a reconciliation effort between daughters of the North and the South — basically white people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line — coming together to memorialize heroes from the Civil War in heroic, and in Lee’s case really mythic, language," she said.
Additionally, cathedral officials have determined to devote "significant liturgical, artistic and programmatic resources" over the next couple years to discussions focused on whether or not the historically inspired windows should be removed altogether.
"Whatever the chapter’s ultimate decision, the windows will not live in the cathedral in the same way they have in the past," the group tasked with making the determination announced in a statement Wednesday.
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