Music is an undeniably powerful form of expression. It can move people to tears. It can brighten the spirit of a room, and it can also invigorate a nation in the throes of prejudice.
On this day in history, Marian Anderson sang in front of the Lincoln Memorial after being denied permission to sing in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
In 1939 Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, attempted to rent Constitution Hall, which was owned by the DAR, for a performance. He was denied on the grounds of the Hall already being booked for the date he requested. Hurok eventually discovered that a rival manager had booked the Hall for the exact dates after he called and was given permission to use the Hall. Outraged, Hurok called the Hall to find that the Hall forbade black performers and was told that “No Negro will ever appear in this hall.”
In the following days, musicians and music enthusiasts alike expressed their disgust over the incident. The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned from the DAR in protest. She spearheaded a movement alongside Hurok and Walter White of the NAACP to allow Anderson to perform in a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9.
Marian Anderson performed the concert in front of 75,000 people and many more radio listeners. She performed knowing that she would become a symbol of the desegregation movement. For that one moment, she was a beacon of hope for the Negros suffering from prejudice throughout the nation.
After her performance, she faded from the national spotlight and returned to her concert circuit. She finally performed in Constitution Hall in 1943, but was reported to have said she “felt no different than I did in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall, and I was happy to sing in it.”
On April 9 a fire drill took place at Rock Bridge High School, the baseball team traveled to Booneville for a game and girls soccer played its annual rivalry game against Hickman High School. But 73 years ago and 825 miles away, a monumental concert was performed at Lincoln’s feet.