The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2023 is 1943 Washington D.C., the setting of the novel that I’m writing. Visit daily in April for a new post on my topic.
A is for Marian Anderson
A very famous incident in US civil rights history occurred in 1939. Singer Marian Anderson was denied the use of Constitution Hall, a venue owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), for a concert. Constitution Hall had a policy of only allowing white performers.
A coalition of black-led civil rights groups organized protests and meetings. The furor drew the attention of the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who worked with the administration to arrange a concert at an alternate venue — the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
That concert was a moving statement about how far black people had come from the condition of enslavement and about how far the country still had to go to meet the promise of equality for all.
The first song, in particular, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” was a bold and beautiful message about what Marian Anderson expected of her country at a moment when Nazism had taken control of Germany.
Marian Anderson eventually did perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. That event occurred on January 7, 1943.
The previous day, Wednesday, January 6, Marian Anderson attended the dedication of a mural painted by Mitchell Jamieson on a wall in the Department of Interior. That mural, An Incident in Contemporary American Life, commemorated the Lincoln Hall concert.
According to the Washington Post coverage of the mural dedication, Miss Anderson sang five songs at the dedication. The songs that I recognized were “Like a Motherless Child” and “Comin’ Through the Rye.”
The Library of Congress digitized a photograph of this event:
Some of my friends in black sororities will appreciate this detail from the Washington Post article about the dedication:
The singer wore orchids presented to her by three chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is an honorary member, through Sophia Edelin, Fay Milia and Viola Harris Smith.
The next day’s concert at Constitution Hall was a benefit for war relief in China. Anderson sang at the invitation of the DAR after she insisted that the audience be integrated. The performance required the DAR to waive their white-only performer policy — the policy itself wasn’t rescinded until 1952.
If we had been in the crowd on January 7, 1943, we would have been part of an audience that was equally black and white. Miss Anderson dedicated “Ave Maria” to George Washington Carver, who died two days previously.
Mural of marian anderson is presented to the nation. (1943, Jan 07). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/mural-marian-anderson-is-presented-nation/docview/151633782/se-2 Marian Anderson and Constitution Hall. National Park Service. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/marian-anderson-and-constitution-hall.htm By Ray C.B. Brown. (1943, Jan 08). Song recital aids china, seals pact. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/song-recital-aids-china-seals-pact/docview/151632214/se-2