Happy 75th Anniversary Of Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial Concert That Ended Racism Forever

75 years ago today, Marian Anderson gave a concert at the Lincoln Memorial, after being snubbed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who would not allow black performers at their precious Constitution Hall. This move by the decent churchgoing women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces was not well-received by all the DAR’s members, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who resigned her membership and helped find Anderson her historic venue.


NPR ran a lovely piece on the event, by the always terrific Susan Stamberg:

And here’s a bit of trivia that we’d somehow never heard of before:

She began with “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” — also known as “America” — a deeply patriotic song. When she got to the third line of that well-known tune, she made a change. Instead of “of thee I sing” she sang “to thee we sing.”

A quiet, humble person, Anderson often used “we” when speaking about herself. Years after the concert, she explained why: “We cannot live alone,” she said. “And the thing that made this moment possible for you and for me, has been brought about by many people whom we will never know.”

But her change of lyric — from “I” to “we” can be heard as an embrace — implying community and group responsibility. Never a civil rights activist, Anderson believed prejudice would disappear if she performed and behaved with dignity.

And of course, Yr Doktor Zoom found this curious version of the story in a rightwing Christian textbook for eighth-graders that we’ve been picking apart:

In one of those amazing lies by omission that makes us admire this book so much, Land I Love can’t even be honest about the central facts of that event:

officials in Washington, D.C., denied her the privilege of singing at Constitution Hall because she was black. Instead, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday morning of 1939 to sing for 75,000 Americans of all races and walks of life.

Darn those mean old racist “officials in Washington DC!” Kids reading Land I Love would understandably come away thinking that the federal government blocked her appearance at the presumably government-owned landmark Constitution Hall, when in fact that concert hall was privately operated by a private group, the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Needless to say, the textbook also doesn’t mention that the Lincoln Memorial concert was arranged by a bunch of liberal churches and unions, either, but the main thing is that “officials” in Washington DC were racists. Hey, they were “officials” of the DAR, which was headquartered In DC, so close enough. And of course, the DAR’s refusal to let Anderson perform led to an iconic moment of the early civil rights movement, since their racism ultimately backfired, giving Anderson a far greater platform. You’ll forgive us if we refrain from applauding them for a job well done, though.

Here’s another newsreel from 1939:

To commemorate the anniversary of Anderson’s recital, an anniversary concert will be held this week — at Constitution Hall, where it should have been 75 years ago. Anderson herself eventually did perform there, in 1943, for a WWII relief fundraiser, and in 1953 and 1956 before integrated audiences. The DAR eventually apologized, and in 1992, just a year before she died, the organization awarded her its Centennial medal “for outstanding service to the nation.”

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