Washington Cathedral dean on Confederate flags: ‘It is time to take those windows out’

A stained-glass window honoring Confederate General Stonewall Jackson installed at the Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

A stained-glass window honoring Confederate General Stonewall Jackson installed at the Washington National Cathedral. The windows are the work of Wilbur Herbert Burnham of Boston. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

WASHINGTON (RNS) The dean of Washington National Cathedral has called for two stained-glass windows featuring Confederate flags to be taken down from the Gothic edifice, in yet another instance of institutions reconsidering countless tributes to the Southern cause.

“It is time to take those windows out,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall in a Thursday (June 25) announcement.

The prominent building on the skyline of the nation’s capital includes windows honoring Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and each contains an image of the controversial flag.

“The Cathedral installed these windows, in part, because its leadership at the time hoped they would foster reconciliation between parts of the nation that had been divided by the Civil War,” said Hall, who has called for the governing bodies of the cathedral to remove the windows that have been there since 1953.

But at a time when the nation is mourning the killings of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., allegedly by a shooter who embraced the flag, Hall said the cathedral should take a different approach. He also cited the recent killings of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers.

“Here, in 2015, we know that celebrating the lives of these two men, and the flag under which they fought, promotes neither healing nor reconciliation, especially for our African-American sisters and brothers,” Hall said.

A stained-glass window honoring Robert E. Lee installed at the Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

A stained-glass window honoring Robert E. Lee installed at Washington National Cathedral. The windows are the work of Wilbur Herbert Burnham. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

The cathedral’s announcement comes as religious and political leaders have called for the flag to be taken down from the grounds of the South Carolina State House and elsewhere. On Wednesday, the board of visitors of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, voted 9-3 in favor of removing the Confederate Naval Jack from its chapel “to an appropriate location” on its campus.

“I think this is a major, major statement now, continuing with sort of the domino effect that has occurred across the country, to remove any vestiges of the Confederacy because it has become painfully apparent to all of those who defended it for so long that it is offensive,” said history professor Jason Silverman, an expert on the American Old South at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “It’s now being interpreted as being dangerous.”

Given the nature of the cathedral space, Hall said, a change in the windows will take “time, energy and money.” In the interim, he said, a display will be placed near the windows “to explain them in their historical context.”

“We will gather a representative group to work with us to imagine how new windows can best represent our shared history of war and peace, racial division and reconciliation,” he said. “We will also discuss the future of the Jackson and Lee windows.”

Silverman, who visited the cathedral a few years ago during a trip to Washington, said he noticed the red and blue panels that featured the Confederate flags and thought it was “really odd” that the cathedral included them.

He noted that the decision to install them came just before the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision against school segregation.

“I’m almost thrilled, in one sense, chronologically, that it comes sort of right on the cusp in the 1950s before everything changes,” said Silverman. “I can’t believe that would have even been proposed in, say, ’57, ’58, ‘59 or ’60.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • C’mon folks. There’s no politicians involved here. The Washington National Cathedral has the ability and the money to remove (or simply smash) those Confederate windows, **immediately.**

    One cell-phone call to the liberal groups that govern the Cathedral, should have taken care of business by now. What’s the holdup?

    No political hand-wringing necessary; no drawn-out debates required. The windows are Cathedral property. Just grab a couple hammers from the old broom closet, and start renovating. You don’t even need a press release kit.

    So let’s see exactly how long it takes this bastion of religious liberalism to actually get the job done. Yes, I do want to see South Carolina’s Confederate flag taken down, but here’s a FAR easier target, requiring only two hours (not counting the 90-minute dinner break).

    So let’s get honest here, folks. If it takes more than 24 hours to get this one simple task completed — ASK WHY.

  • Doc,

    They’re holding off because there’s no image of the Cross to smash as well.

    But, it’ll go.

  • I wonder how insane America will eventually become due to its hypocritical political correctness? Will the Confederate flag be erased from history as if it never existed? Will those silly Civil War reenactments be outlawed? I just read another news item on banishing “Gone With The Wind” from further viewing! Now concentrating on these flags in a larger stain glass window will solve just what? They have been there for 62 years, probably unnoticed, and no violence has been caused by them. It is history. Please grow up, America, and concentrate on issues that truly matter.

  • Any student of history will tell you that we study history so that we can learn from our past, both the good and the bad. The Confederate South was a deplorable period of our national past and should not be celebrated, but by wiping all traces of its existence we forget what it is we find so objectionable. What is next in our hyper-political correctness? Do we destroy the hundreds of thousands of grave stones of Confederate soldiers? Do we start calling the South the Lower US? None of this political correctness does anything productive to foster the REAL conversations we need to be having in this nation to begin the work of reconciliation.

  • I hope The Dukes of Hazzard will soon be removed from syndication. Never liked that show.

  • I find it amazing that Charlie Hebdo can publish intentionally offensive and insulting cartoons about Muslims and Christians and it is called free speech, but there is a demand to erase the flag of Southern Secession because somewhere (we are told) someone’s feeling might be hurt over events that happened before any of us were born.

    I have to ask how many of the politicians that are screaming about the “racist” Confederate flag proudly display the flag of apartheid Israel in their office.

  • In what way was the show offensive to anyone? I guess you are okay with the sickening and disturbing crap Hollywood puts on tv these days? The Dukes were about doing “good” for people. At no point was that show ever racist, ever. Our first amendment rights are being violated by this communist regime that that uneducated and misguided people voted into office.

  • I believe every flag should be removed from any public place, someone may be offended. The bible should be removed as well, it may offend some. It should be illegal to sell any flag, logo or sign with anything that someone may find offensive. We should spend millions of dollars across the country replacing or tearing down anything that may offend people. The radio should be turned off, since songs or opinions may offend others. TV should be eliminated, since it may offend. As a matter fact, we should all be forced to live unhappy, unoffended and dictated lives inside an enclosed bubble…… And to think we were so against a communist dictatorship.

  • JE SUIS CHARLIE HEBDO as long as “they” approve …………… actually the Confederate flag is not about race, but about Comrade-Uncle-Sam –it’s a symbol against the over reaching police state of federalism. Just as is the GADSDEN flag
    ALL traces/symbols of FREEDOM are being erased. Andrew Jackson who DARED stand up to the International BANKERS is under attack on the $20
    All those CongressSCUM who voted for Obamatrade are every so quickly running around trying to get removed any statue or symbol from the era of the Civil War. Such are the last reminder to a brainwashed public that once upon a time Americans fought against what is happening everywhere nowadays.
    Mel Gibson suppressed because EVERY one of his movies preached FREEDOM

  • They better take out any Israeli RAGS that are there —-
    I am appalled when I see the “STAR of DEATH” flown in public. Israel thinks GREATER ISRAEL should rule the World. “Greater Israel” is all land between the Nile and the Euphrates rivers, Syria, Jordan, most of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. You can find maps they have drawn online.Did you know what the two blue bands on their flag stand for? The Nile and the Euphrates. Yes, it’s true. “Thou shall not covet …..” Israel COVETS ALL.
    The sight of the “STAR of DEATH” sends a frightening and offensive message to ALL NON-Jews.

  • “In what way was the show offensive to anyone?”

    Offensive to the laws of physics with various stunt driving.

    Offensive to the Aristotelian unities of dramatics with the introduction of clone knockoffs Vance and Coy when Wopat and Schneider demanded more money.

    Offensive to the vagaries of time as I was far too young when the show aired and was rerun to truly appreciate Catherine Bach and her “Daisy Dukes”.

    The remake with Sean William Scott and Johnny Noxville was offensive to all notions of decent action comedies.


  • Memorys, ohh.
    This conf. flagg have been hanging, aprox. 5 m from the Russian/Sovjet border, and Nobody reacted, not even the Russians, whom probably found it amusing, and this flagg, does have a meaning, then it was like Born to be Wild, than anything about Slavery, witch by the way stil is rampant around the world, but extensive in the South eastern lands and in China, just to give you an perspection of the bollocs served this days.

    When the f… did Charlie go.
    Anyone, this is a freak show, nothing more or less and epic display of utter idiocy, wrapped in consesnsusses so lame it actually physicaly hurts.
    My brain want to bang my head into the table, exept the Laptop is in the way.

    Not a day without insane people deliviering insane levels of idiocy, in a row so packed its becomed my new comedy centrall.
    I am impressed.


  • NOW: take down that cross, I am offended, take down the image of christ; I am offended, take down the church, I am offended

  • B C J: breathe, and learn to understand sarcasm and how to take Internet comments with a grain of salt.

  • Doc Anthony,
    They are still repairing millions of dollars worth of earthquake damage at the Cathedral that was not covered by insurance. So, they don’t have plenty of money just this minute. They need to keep the building from falling down around their heads before the deal with the windows.
    Having said that, they could probably sell them on eBay for a fat price.

  • This is crazy. This is the destruction of 2 stone memorial bays that incumpas these two sets of windows. The 2 bays have inscriptions in them which are chiseled in stone. It is not possible to historically preserve this set of memorial bays if the windows are removed (even though Dean Garry Hall said he wants the windows historically preserved). These bays are a memorial to the struggles of the south, such as the buring of Atlanta Georga by General Sherman. Destroying them will have a demoralize effect on many southerners just as General Sherman had a demoralizing effect on Atlanta.

  • “Cathedrals do not belong to a single generation. They are churches of history. They gather up the faith of a whole people and proclaim the goodly Providence which has welded that people together as they have hoped and suffered and believed across the centuries.”

    That quote comes from the National Cathedral’s very own website and from the mouth of Dean Francis Sayre himself. Dean Francis Sayre was BUILDING a National Cathedral whereas the Very Rev. Gary Hall seems to be trying to tear it down.

    Words have meaning, don’t they?

    Keep the Lee and Jackson windows as they were.