On April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson gave a concert at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall because she was black.
The Easter Sunday concert drew a desegregated crowd of 75,000.
NPR ran a story about the event this morning.
NPR's Susan Stamberg reports:
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.”To commemorate the anniversary of Anderson’s recital, a 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.”
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.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster