St. Paul’s Episcopal Takes a Stand on Confederate History and Memory

St. Paul’s Episcopal in Richmond has announced that it will remove many of the objects that venerate the Confederacy, including specifically those items featuring the Confederate flag. Items that will be removed include six plaques. Plaques honoring Davis’s wife and daughter will be modified as will the church’s coat of arms. The church also plans to erect a memorial to those slaves that were members of the community. [I wrote about the public history side of this controversy back in early October.]

The news article includes an attachment that offers some insight into the process by which members decided what would stay and what would be removed or modified. I highlighted one small section below.

Symbols

  • Any memorial given in memory of family should stay
  • Distinguish between private memorials and monuments to “the cause”
  • Keep symbols and show love
  • Learn from history of symbols rather than removing
  • Know more about which are offensive; history
  • Need more symbols of who this church is today

I would like to know more about why two plagues honoring Lee and Davis were removed but the not the stained-glass windows that feature the two as biblical characters.

Regardless of where you stand, it is clear that this church engaged in a careful process to figure out the best way forward. It may even offer a model for other institutions that are facing similar challenges.

What we do need to dispense with are the tired cries that history is being erased or that the St. Paul’s community is judging the past by modern standards or values. It should be apparent that this community is facing its collective past head on and trying to re-frame its relationship to that past. One of the things pointed out in the attached outline is the belief that the concerns of current members are more important than the history of a building. That makes perfect sense to me, especially if that building is a place of worship.

Finally, it is true that the community made a judgement about its Confederate iconography based on modern standards as did the very same community when it chose to dedicate them decades ago.

14 comments… add one
  • History being erased? Not sure about that. Even if every single symbol of the Confederacy is removed from public view, their cause will still be in the historical record as one that was fought to preserve a system of White supremacy and as an attempt to keep human beings in bondage so that they could turn a profit on the backs of others. I think their legacy is safe!

    If I had to guess about the stained glass windows, yes, it’s bad taste for them to stay, but I’m sure cost of removal, and maintaining the integrity of a historical space were considered. I’m not knowledgeable about what year the stained glass was installed, but I’d hazard to guess its pretty old. It’s probably cost prohibitive though.

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    • I have no doubt that the cost of replacing the windows is substantial. They are also works of art in their own right. It will be interesting to see how the church utilizes those windows to educate and also strengthen their community.

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      • Agreed.

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  • “Know more about which are offensive; history”…….this is a wonderful statement for people who want change. Unfortunately, a certain segment of society learn about this element of Americas “Offensive History”, and embrace it. The young man who killed all of these people certainly wasn’t born with this idea. He was taught it, and his entire life is now ruined forever. As well it should be. Did he think he was going to be some kind of hero after his act? The problem is, to some, he actually is. After the 100 years of segregation, and then the civil unrest of the 60’s, and seeing how it’s now 2015…………and we’re still having this discussion…………well………..it’s disgusting. I simply don’t understand what is driving these people who have so much hate in them for no reason. Now because of a few deranged Muslims in the world, there are people who hate an entire religion. It’s exactly the same way of thinking. Will it ever change? Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Kevin, and the same to all on your blog.

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  • It is quite clear that this church isn’t stopped in time. It has an active congregation and what appears to be thoughtful leadership. I see no need to call out “erasing history” as this site is one of worship, not historical remembrance. Put simply, we are not talking about a single-focus item here like a battlefield monument.

    I think the church leadership took logical, historical and reasoned step to determine what should stay and what should go. I applaud their calm, thoughtful approach.

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  • I didn’t know that Davis and Lee had been given sainthood. Pray tell, what miracles have they been confirmed as performing from the great beyond? Sorry, too much Catholic upbringing.

    I’ll echo the Happy Thanksgiving greetings and stay out of those crazy shopping mobs. Be safe!

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    • They ended slavery through the transfigurative act of unsuccessful rebellion.

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      • Where?

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  • I would like to know more about why two plagues honoring Lee and Davis were removed but the not the stained-glass windows that feature the two as biblical characters.

    I believe this over-states the case. The windows feature Biblical scenes that were intended as allegorical allusions to Lee and Davis, but apart from their names being included in the dedication of the windows, I doubt that anyone today, in 2015, would make the connection without having it explained in detail. The symbolism that had in the 1890s is pretty well forgotten more than a century later.

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    • Good point.

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    • I understand the symbolism, but without these portrayals being identified as Davis & Lee never would have seen it. To be honest, I still don’t. They look like scenes from the Bible to me and I really don’t see the resemblance. Of course in only looking at photos so maybe if I were looking at the actual windows it might be different.

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  • Kevin, you ask “why two plagues honoring Lee and Davis were removed but the not the stained-glass windows that feature the two as biblical characters.” As you can see in the announcement, the vestry, guided by lengthy congregational discussion, has chosen to remove images of the Confederate battle flag from the church. These, by the way, are the only Confederate emblems in the sanctuary and narthex. The windows dedicated to Lee and Davis represent Biblical figures and specific Biblical events.
    The Lee memorial windows (1892), designed by Englishman Henry Holiday, pictures (lower window) the young Moses turning away from the house of Pharaoh and (upper) the aged Moses praying on Mt. Nebo. The Davis memorial windows (1898), designed by Frederick Wilson for Tiffany Studios pictures (lower) St. Paul in chains brought before Herod Agrippa and (upper) the angels of Goodness and Mercy.
    Do they feature Lee and Davis as Biblical characters? Through Chronicling America, you can read contemporary newspaper articles (cited below) that describe the windows at the time of their dedication; they discuss them as Biblical figures only. Subjective and anecdotal identification of the bearded men as literal depictions of Confederate generals no doubt began at the time the windows were installed; and for some, this continues today. But many St. Paul’s parishioners and visitors – myself included – accurately see them as Moses and St. Paul. (Well – the older Moses does look uncannily like my brother Jim.) In this historic church, we can also see and appreciate evidence of 170 years worth of history.
    Times (Richmond): Oct. 30, 1892, p. 5; Nov. 2, 1892, p.5; April 17, 1898, p. 10.

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    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the additional information.

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