Denied by the Daughters of the American Revolution the opportunity to sing at their Constitution Hall in segregated Washington, D.C., Marian Anderson gave an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial on this date in 1939. The event was arranged by her Jewish manager, Sol Hurok, with the backing of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who resigned from the DAR in protest), Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and Walter White, president of the NAACP. An audience of 75,000 (including 10-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr.) attended, and the concert was nationally broadcast. Anderson, by then a world-renowned contralto, had previously been subjected to racial discrimination, including in Princeton, New Jersey, where she was turned away from hotel accommodations during a concert tour in 1937 — and ended up being hosted by Albert Einstein, who became her fast friend. To see her singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (after an introduction by Harold Ickes), see below.
Hurok “understood that booking Constitution Hall was a matter of toppling centuries of oppression in Washington, DC, and he enlisted the help of the city’s two most experienced civil rights leaders: NAACP President Walter White and Howard University professor Charles Cohen. While Hurok gradually created inroads with the DAR, White and Cohen planned the Anderson camp’s response to the eventual refusal, from courting alternative concert venues to contacting Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes about the concert. In January 1939, Hurok finally revealed to the DAR his goal for Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, but the management of the hall denied the booking.” —Persephone Magazine
You can listen to the full 29-minute NBC radio broadcast at this link.