Confederate Iconography and the National Cathedral

This has to be one of the best discussions about the place of Confederate iconography in our public and private spaces that I have seen. This panel discussion took place at the National Cathedral, which recently removed Confederate battle flags from its stained glass windows. The question of whether the full windows depicting Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed has yet to be decided. That is the setting for this discussion.

The panel includes historian John Coski, Canon Theologian, Kelly Brown-Douglas, and the Associate Director of the National Museum of African-American History & Culture, Rex Ellis. Ray Suarez moderates.

I especially appreciate the role that John Coski played in this discussion. When it came to the question of what to do with the windows, Coski noted that it is a decision best left to the church community. He didn’t attempt to argue that by removing the windows history was being erased or that we lose an opportunity to learn from the past. And thankfully, he didn’t suggest that what is needed are interpretive panels.

The question that must ultimately be decided, as Brown-Douglas noted is: “Who are we?”

2 comments… add one
  • Forester Jan 8, 2017 @ 12:16

    “And thankfully, he didn’t suggest that what is needed are interpretive panels.”

    The sarcasm is strong with this one. :p

    You can joke all you want, but I still believe public statues and monuments would be loss polarizing with an interpretive marker (something like, “This monument was erected in 1907 by veterans,” or whatever the specific story is). The public needs context, even when the monument is not controversial. Here in Norfolk, there is a marker to explain Douglas MacArthur’s statue, so why not one for the Confederate monument?

    Leaving the windows for the Episcopalian community to decide is probably a bad idea, as they span the whole spectrum of extremes. My chaplain at school is such a liberal priest that she even removes the US flag from the sanctuary, and was horrified to see Robert E. Lee in a stained glass window at a local parish. But I know another person who is studying to be an Episcopal priest and he’s a rabid firebrand who wants South Carolina to secede again. The church can be very polarized along modern political lines, and real interpretation of often history suffers.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2017 @ 12:23

      No sarcasm and no joking involved. Nor did I suggest that interpretive markers are always inappropriate. The point I was trying to make in the post, which is one that I have made in numerous posts, is that public historians need to reflect on their place in these discussions. Often we hear of panels as some kind of automatic solution. Context and interpretation may not be what a specific community needs.

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