Happy Birthday Marian Anderson!
Eleanor Roosevelt first met African American opera singer Marian Anderson in 1935 when the singer was invited to perform at the White House.
Four years later, in January of 1939, Howard University invited Marian Anderson to perform in Washington, DC for an Easter concert. Anticipating large crowds for the acclaimed singer, the University asked the Daughters of the American Revolution if they could use their auditorium, Constitution Hall in downtown Washington. The DAR refused the request. As part of the original funding arrangements for Constitution Hall, major donors had insisted that only whites could perform on stage.
On February 26, 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt submitted her letter of resignation to the DAR president, declaring that the organization had “set an example which seems to me unfortunate” and that the DAR had “an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way” but had “failed to do so.”
Mrs. Roosevelt’s resignation thrust the Marian Anderson concert, the DAR, and the subject of racism to the center of national attention. As word of her resignation spread, Mrs. Roosevelt and others quietly worked behind the scenes promoting the idea for an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial, just blocks away from Constitution Hall.
On April 9th, seventy-five thousand people, including dignitaries and average citizens, attended the outdoor concert. It was as diverse a crowd as anyone had seen—black, white, old, and young—dressed in their Sunday finest. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio. Ms. Anderson opened her concert with America. The operatic first half of the program concluded with Ave Maria. After a short intermission, she then sang a selection of spirituals familiar to the African American members of her audience. And with tears in her eyes, Marian Anderson closed the concert with an encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.
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