Tuesday, October 27, 2020


Marian Anderson

Seventy-five years ago, on April 9, 1939, [Easter Sunday], as Hitler’s troops advanced in Europe and the Depression took its toll in the U.S., one of the most important musical events of the 20th century took place before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 

According to Marian Anderson biographer Allan Keiler, she was invited to sing in Washington by Howard University as part of its concert series. And because of Anderson’s international reputation, the university needed to find a place large enough to accommodate the crowds. Constitution Hall was such a place, but the Daughters of the American Revolution owned the hall.

“They refused to allow her use of the hall,” Keiler says, “because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR.”

One of the members of the DAR was first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Outraged by the decision, Roosevelt sent a letter of resignation and wrote about it in her weekly column, My Day. “They have taken an action which has been widely criticized in the press,” she wrote. “To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.”

According to Keiler, the idea to sing outdoors came from Walter White, then executive secretary of the NAACP. Since the Lincoln Memorial was a national monument, the logistics for the day fell to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. It was Ickes who led Anderson onto the stage on April 9, 1939. 

There were 75,000 people in the audience on the Mall that day.

So, in the chilly April dusk, Anderson stepped onto a stage built on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began to sing: "My Country, ’Tis of Thee." [Sweet land of liberty, Of thee we sing; Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims’ pride; From ev’ry mountainside, Let freedom ring!]

Susan Stamberg NPR 4-9-2014

No comments:

Post a Comment