MARIAN ANDERSON AT THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL:
A GREAT SINGER MAKES CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY
On April 9, 1939, a crowd of seventy-five thousand covered the green expanse of the National Mall. They stood shoulder to shoulder, jamming the path to the Lincoln Memorial, pressing in around the Reflecting Pool, and fanning up the hill to the Washington Monument. The nation’s capital had never seen such a gathering. Even the cold, damp, and dreary weather could not keep the people away. Wearing their finest Easter attire, they had come to hear Marian Anderson sing.
The struggle to stage this concert—to find an appropriate venue for the African American contralto critics extolled for her “perfect singing voice”—had captivated the nation and awakened a complacent city to the cruel hypocrisy of segregation.
Most in the crowd knew that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a women’s group made up of descendants of Revolutionary War patriots, had refused to rent space for Anderson’s performance because she was black. They also knew that Eleanor Roosevelt had resigned from the DAR to protest the decision, that the DC Board of Education had followed the DAR’s lead by limiting Anderson’s access to its own auditoriums, and that it had taken the combined efforts of the White House, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a wide coalition of Washingtonians to arrange this performance.
Now Anderson, with Daniel Chester French’s famous statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln looming behind her, walked toward the microphones to enthrall her audience in the capital, as well as those listening by radio all around the country. Everyone involved knew it was an important event. But few, if any, realized the impact it would have on America.
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