Artist Uses Stained-Glass Windows To Tell Story Of Civil Rights Struggles

January 14, 2009

Feb. 3, 2005
By John Gordon*


Even though she retired from the classroom, Jean Lacy is still a teacher. Now she uses colorful slivers of glass, instead of chalk, for her lessons.

The Dallas-based United Methodist artist designed stained-glass windows for three churches, and her latest project is a college chapel. Her windows interweave Bible stories with events from modern history.

"I see the windows not as something just to look at, something pretty to look at - they're educational tools," says Lacy, 72.

Her biggest work is the Windows of Our Heritage - 53 stained-glass windows surrounding the sanctuary at St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas. Besides showing traditional biblical scenes, some of the windows also chronicle African-American history and the civil rights movement.

"I wanted to really not go the traditional route," she says. "I think it's important for people to see their history, not only in terms of ancient history, but also contemporary, and I wanted them to see themselves in these windows."

The windows show such leaders as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. The windows also deal with subjects such as school busing and segregated lunch counters.

One of the windows, "No Room at the Inn," alludes to Jesus' birth and provides a commentary on housing segregation.

"We have a mother and her child - if you want to say that's Mary and Christ, all right," Lacy explains. "And then there's a policeman here, and actually it's saying that you can't stay in this particular apartment house, there's no room for you."

Other windows show a sit-in at a lunch counter and African Americans marching for the right to vote. She spent six months doing research and designing the windows.

"I think these windows really are for the children, in particular," Lacy says. "Because I think if you don't know your own history, and if you don't know who you are as a person, as a part of a unique culture as well as a part of the world, that there's no way that you can survive as a person."

The windows are used as teaching tools for youth at St. Luke.

"They just talk to me in a way," says William Edwards, 10, a fifth-grader.

"They tell all the hard work that people in the past have been through to get us where we are today."

Jenae Brent, 11, a sixth-grader at the church, learned things from the windows that she has not seen yet in a textbook.

"Some of the pictures told me things I really didn't know," she says. "It says that we've been through a lot. We've been through too much to give up now."

Lacy also designed stained-glass windows at two other churches - New Hope Baptist in Dallas and Trinity United Methodist in Houston.

She is doing research for windows for a chapel at Wiley College, a United Methodist-supported school in Marshall, Texas. She hopes to have the Wiley project completed in about a year.

A native of Washington, Lacy received a degree in art education from Southern University in Baton Rouge and continued her art studies in New York and Los Angeles.

Most of her work is smaller in scale than the windows at St. Luke. But she says the windows are important because schools have "failed miserably" in teaching African-American history.

"I think if I die tomorrow, I will think that I've done pretty well," she says, "because I have presented something that, hopefully, will have staying power, and will continue to inspire and hopefully will give hope and faith to people who are able to see them."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.