Sunday, February 27, 2011

African American History Month-Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 27, 1897.

Today is the 114th anniversary of her birth. She was a contralto, perhaps best remembered for her performance on Easter Sunday, 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Anderson joined a junior church choir at the age of six, and applied to an all-white music school after her graduation from high school in 1921, but was turned away because she was black. Later, she debuted with the New York Philharmonic on August 26, 1925 and scored an immediate success with the critics. In 1928, she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall. Her reputation was further advanced by her tour through Europe in the early 1930s where she did not encounter the racial prejudices she had experienced in America.

Ms. Anderson won the Julius Rosenwald scholarship allowing her to train abroad in England, France, Belgium, Holland, the former Soviet Union and Scandinavia. She toured Europe many times in her career.

In 1939, she was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. because the venue owners, The Daughters of the American Revolution enforced a clause in their contract that stated “concerts by whites only.” DAR member Eleanor Roosevelt and several other members resigned in protest.

As an alternative to the Constitution Hall concert, Marian’s representatives arranged for her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. In attendance were 75,000 people, the largest turnout to date at that time, and heard by millions of listeners on the radio.

Although she was reluctant to view herself as an activist, the Lincoln Memorial concert has been said to be one of the most dramatic events in civil rights history.

Several weeks later, at the invitation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ms. Anderson performed at the White House for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England, making her the first African American to perform at the White House.

In spite of her treatment by the Daughters of the American Revolution Ms. Anderson remained a patriot. She performed in hospitals and bases for the troops in World War II and the Korean War.

In 1957 she toured India and the Far East as a goodwill ambassador through the U.S. State Department and the American National Theater and Academy. She traveled 35,000 miles in 12 weeks, giving 24 concerts.

Upon her return President Eisenhower appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As a member of the United Nations Trusteeship Committee, Ms. Anderson helped oversee the well-being of more than 100 million people living in U.N. trust territories in Africa and the South Pacific.

She sang at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Most important was her international stardom – she traveled the world extensively and enjoyed more freedom and appreciation abroad than at home.

In 1963 Ms. Anderson also sang at the historic March on Washington. She was alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was able to see and hear her on that day along with my family and friends who attended the March. That same year she was awarded the American Medal of Freedom.

Ironically, Marion Anderson launched her retirement tour at the very hall where she had been denied so many years before, Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Marian Anderson passed away on April 8, 1993 at the age of 96, leaving a legacy of excellence and selfless service to a world of adoring fans.

On January 27, 2005, a commemorative U.S. postage stamp honored her as part of the Black Heritage series.

Ms. Anderson was a recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America.

She symbolized the civil rights movement with dignity and grace; and was the first African-American to be named a permanent member of Metropolitan Opera Company, also, she was a frequent performer at the White House.

Four years ago, while visiting Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to visit the home of Marian Anderson. It was a special experience as we were shown around by her family members. The home has the original furniture, piano, and china just as Ms. Anderson used them when she lived there. Even some of her dresses were on display. I would encourage anyone who is in the area to make an appointment to visit.

While hearing the personal stories of her life, I was, once again, in awe to think of the many experiences that she had and the courage that she exhibited while enduring racism and prejudice by others. She carried herself with dignity and with her head held high.

Her story is an inspiration for everyone.

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

I remember when Marion Anderson sang at President Kennedy's innaugration and at the March on Washington.

PJ, you wrote with elegance about a dignified and elegant lady with an amazing voice, career, and contribution to our American society.

Thank you!!