Friday, April 09, 2010

Pop History Moment: Marian Anderson Lets Freedom Ring

Owing entirely to their policy of official segregation, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for noted operatic soprano Marian Anderson to give a recital at Constitution Hall in the spring of 1939; even though Anderson's manager Sol Hurok had been trying to book his client into one of DC's premiere musical venues for three years - and been rebuffed every time - somehow this refusal seemed to incite a little more umbrage in people.

For one thing, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt got wind of it, and resigned her membership forthwith - an entirely courageous move, especially in those days; in due time she would be joined by thousands of others - a major embarrassment for the organization, which had hitherto been a pillar of the establishment...

On this day in 1939 Marian Anderson sang instead at the Lincoln Memorial, at an open air concert planned by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes; Mrs. Roosevelt was there in the front row for this concert, though, along with 75,000 attendees in person and untold millions more on the radio. Anderson's recital ended with a rousing rendition of My Country, 'Tis of Thee. The concert not only had the intended benefit of highlighting the depth of American racism, it would have at least one unintended benefit as well, as it inspired the future good works of a certain 10-year old named Martin Luther King, Jr.

Proof of Anderson's classiness came when she later accepted the DAR's apology with the words 'You lose a lot of time hating people', and they finally invited her to perform - albeit for a whites-only audience - at a concert for war relief in 1942; although the District of Columbia abandoned its official policy of segregation following World War II the DAR would not follow suit until 1952.
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