Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, February 11, 2005  

History: Remembering Marian Anderson

Denial and bigotry are often close companions. Sometimes the denial goes on for a long time. Decades after the Daughters of the American Revolution committed possibly their major public relations faux pas, they were still in denial. I am referring, of course, to the organization's refusal to allow African-American diva Marian Anderson to perform in a venue it owns, Constitution Hall in Washington. The group allowed only white people to perform there. But, before revisiting that episode in American history, let's refresh ourselves in regard to Anderson, who died in 1993. The Memphis Business Journal reports on an event commemorating Anderson's achievements.

The Memphis Post Office will host a ceremony at LeMoyne-Owen College on Feb. 17 for the unveiling of the Marian Anderson postage stamp.

As a black woman, contralto Anderson was a rarity in the classical music world.

She first sang in Europe -- the road to stardom at the time -- in 1927, made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1928, then studied in Berlin in 1930 on a fellowship.

Renowned impresario Sol Hurok took her under his wing, and presented her in concert at New York City's Town Hall in 1935. 20 years later she would become the first black singer to appear on stage at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Let's call it bittersweet. Anderson is being celebrated in a Southern city that, until the mid-1970s, would have barred her from participating in much of its civic life. That is an incredible contrast to the incident that made her famous outside the world of classical music.

Most Americans best remember Marian Anderson for her conscience-grabbing concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939 after she was denied the use of Constitution Hall, an arena that, from 1935 to 1952, opened its doors to white artists only. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, appalled at the Hall's racist action, opened the Lincoln Memorial for Anderson's concert. As Abraham Lincoln's statue watched over her from behind, Anderson gave an extraordinary performance that will go down in history as one of the most dramatic civil-rights spectacles ever.

Anderson would return to the Lincoln Memorial to perform during the March on Washington in 1963. The event is best known as the site of the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

For decades, the DAR denied that it had done anything wrong in regard to its treatment of Anderson. The group has traditionally had a disproportionate share of members from the South and been politically conservative. This year, the president of the DAR, Presley Merritt Wagoner, acknowledged the discrimination during an appearance at the Washington commemoration of the Anderson stamp. Her statement is available on the DAR's website.

It is most fitting that we gather in Memorial Continental Hall at Constitution Hall, the place which historically represents a sad chapter in our country’s history and in the history of DAR. We deeply regret that Marian Anderson was not given the opportunity to perform her 1939 Easter concert in Constitution Hall but recognize that in the positive sense the event was a pivotal point in the struggle for racial equality.

Ms. Anderson’s legendary concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial will always be remembered as a milestone in the Civil Rights movement. The beauty of her voice, amplified by her courage and grace, brought attention to the eloquence of the many voices urging our nation to overcome prejudice and intolerance. It sparked change not only in America but also in the DAR.

I stand before you today wishing that history could be re-written, knowing that it cannot, and assuring you that DAR has learned from the past.

Anderson did not live to hear the acknowledgment, which was a long time coming. But, at least it has finally arrived.

Reasonably related

Read a biography of Marian Anderson at the Kennedy Center web site.

Learn more about her life and the stamp.

posted by J. | 8:00 PM

Tuesday, February 08, 2005  

Commentary: The Silver Rights mailbag

One result of being one of few bloggers who write about civil rights issues is receiving a significant amount of criticism. Heck. Scratch 'criticism.' Hate. Some of the hate comes in the form of email. Fortunately, much of the ugly email I receive is an embarrassment to the sender.

I recently heard from a member of the neo-Confederate movement who is displeased by my recurring entries about that part of the body politic. Meet Joe.

Date: Sat, 05 Feb 2005 08:44:43-05000 (EST)
Subject: (no subject)

I'm not exactly sure what your getting at. The only the thing i can gather from it is that You apparently have no morals or history about yourself. Firsat where are you from? It ain't the south I can tell you that. I agree with everything the SCV says cause in whole I am a member my great,great,great grandfather fought and died graciously for The Cause that still beats in every southerners heart today in the 20th Mississippi Infantry. I myself was born and raised in Jackson Mississippi and now reside in Tennessee. I have never left the south and never plan on doing it. This is my home and i'll defend it from carpetbaggers and scalawags like you until the day i die. So if that makes me "neo-confederate" then so be it. I fly my confederate flag i have it tattooed on my arm and my back so gives you the right to say what is right trust me boy you don't know the half of it and you might want to stay up there with all that notion cause where i'm from my friends aren't as nice as me

you have a good day now

the old south lives don't forget it


The email has not been edited.

What do you say to a fellow with two Confederate flags tattooed on his body? Way to go, Joe? I hear laser surgery can help you? Leave some room for Old Glory? I usually don't respond. Sometimes the best answer is none at all.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM