Sweet Land of Liberty

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Sweet Land of Liberty

Marian Anderson, Photo Credit: Public Domain

As a child, singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) showed remarkable talent, but she was turned away from the Philadelphia Music Academy because she was Black. Her church raised money for her to take private lessons.  In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson, by then a world renowned opera star, to perform at Constitution Hall in segregated Washington, D.C., leading First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the group in protest.  Mrs. Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial instead. More than 75,000 people gathered to hear Anderson sing. Millions listened on the radio. In 2009, as millions watched around the world, Aretha Franklin performed at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. She sang “My Country Tis of Thee.”  It was the song Anderson had memorably performed on the National Mall 70 years before.

Watch: “Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial” Newsreel (2 minutes)

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