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April 10, 2014

Marian Anderson and the concert that challenged racism

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Seventy-five years ago Marian Anderson sang to a crowd of 75,000 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in a stirring statement against racism.

Three-quarters-of-a-century later, young people gathered at the same spot to honor Marian Anderson and commemorate her Easter Day concert.

At the time of the performance, Anderson was already a well-established name on European stages, but when her agent tried to book her into Washington’s Constitution Hall, the all-white organization Daughters of the American Revolution refused. No dates were available, Anderson was told. The schedule of performers for the music hall made the message quite clear: white artists only.

An alternative performance at the Lincoln Memorial was arranged by supporters, who included President Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Anderson and her two sisters were raised by their mother in Philadelphia.  She sang in her Baptist church choir and at age 15, took her first formal music lessons.  When Anderson was 30, she traveled to Europe to establish herself in a more welcoming environment, as many black performers at the time did.

She returned home in 1935 and was again confronted by a segregated America.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library is commemorating the bill’s passage with a summit this week that will feature remarks from four living presidents: President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton and President Obama.


Warm up questions 
  1. What do you know about the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the United States during the decades of the 50’s and 60’s? Who were the leaders? What were some of the most important moments?
  2. What strategies did those fighting racism employ to defeat prejudice?
Discussion questions
  1. How did Marian Anderson handle being told she could not sing at the DAR Constitution Hall? What was the impact of her courageous act?
  2. Does racism still exist in the United States? Where do you see it or hear it? What can you do to fight discrimination in your community?
Writing prompt

First describe Marian Anderson’s act of bravery and defiance and then explain why it was such an important moment in the Civil Rights Movement 75 years ago.

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