By: Elissa Blattman, NWHM Intern
Since Easter is coming up, our Throwback Thursday clip for this week takes us back to Easter Sunday, 1939. Watch the video below to see Marian Anderson performing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on April 9, 1939.
Marian Anderson was a world renowned vocalist and one of the most accomplished singers in the United States during the 1930s. She was the first black entertainer to perform at the White House, which she did twice at the behest of the Roosevelts in 1936 and 1939. Despite her success, she was still subjected to the racial discrimination faced by all black Americans during the first half of the 20th century. En route to gigs across the country, Anderson was often forced to take “colored” transportation and stay in “colored” accommodation, or arrange to stay at friends’ homes in the cities in which she was scheduled to perform. Her shows were also often performed to segregated audiences.
In 1939, Anderson had hoped to perform an Easter Sunday concert at the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.)’s Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, a major concert venue in the city. She was told, however, that Constitution Hall had a strict “whites only” policy and she would not be permitted to perform there. The D.A.R.’s refusal to host the concert at Constitution Hall garnered a good deal of publicity, especially after Eleanor Roosevelt, a D.A.R. member herself, publicly criticized and left the organization due to its reinforced segregation policy. Having previously performed at the White House, Anderson also had other supporters within the Roosevelt administration, including Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, who, taking the NAACP’s suggestion, arranged for Marian Anderson to perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
On April 9, 1939, 75,000 people, including many high ranking government officials, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to watch Anderson’s concert on the National Mall. At the time, it was one of the largest crowds to assemble there. Radio coverage of the performance allowed millions more to listen to it from their homes. The event marked a change in the way many Americans viewed racial issues, and by 1943, Constitution Hall opened its doors to Marian Anderson by inviting her to perform there before a desegregated audience for a WWII benefit concert.