Marian Anderson was born on this day, February 27, 1897. The internationally renowned contralto opera singer sang the National Anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
Twenty two years earlier, Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial marked a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. Learn more about the concert, and the friendship between Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt here.
Photo: President Kennedy with Marian Anderson and her accompanist Franz Rupp in the Oval Office, White House. 3/22/62.
-from the JFK Library
“And when I say all Americans — I mean all Americans.”
On June 29, 1947, President Harry S. Truman became the first President to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for theclosing session of the 38th NAACP annual conference.
Jazz legend Duke Ellington died on this day, May 24, 1974
On April 24, 1969, Ellington celebrated his 70th birthday at the White House where he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal was presented by President Richard Nixon, who himself had played the piano since childhood. From the President’s remarks:
“When we think of freedom, we think of many things. But Duke Ellington is one who has carried the message of freedom to all the nations of the world through music, through understanding, understanding that reaches over all national boundaries and over all boundaries of prejudice and over all boundaries of language..
In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.”
Afterwards, the President played “Happy Birthday” on the piano for the Duke while guests at the White House sang along.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington
April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1974
Mr. Civil Rights
Thurgood Marshall convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
As legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Marshall represented civil rights plaintiffs all over the south and argued more than 30 such cases before the Supreme Court. He won all but five and earned the nickname, Mr. Civil Rights.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named him to the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Second District. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall U.S. Solicitor General, the third highest post in the Department of Justice.
Two years later, on June 13, 1967, LBJ nominated Marshall to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court where he served for 24 years.
Thurgood Marshall’s nomination by LBJ made him the first African American Supreme Court Justice, but it also followed a long and distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer who successfully fought inequality and discrimination.
Pictured here are Marshall and LBJ outside of the White House. 7/9/65
-from the LBJ Library
Letter from Jackie Robinson to President Eisenhower
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was the first African American to “officially” play in Major League Baseball. When he retired from the game, Jackie Robinson went on to champion the cause of civil rights from his position as a prominent executive of the Chock Full o’Nuts Corporation.
Robinson had grown increasingly impatient with what he regarded as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to act decisively in combating racism. In this letter, he expresses his frustration and calls upon the President to finally guarantee Federal support of black civil rights. Read more
75,000 People Gather on the National Mall to Hear Marian Anderson Sing
On this day, April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson performs from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
When Howard University invited her to perform in Washington, they approached the Daughters of the American Revolution about the use of their auditorium, Constitution Hall. The DAR’s rejection on the basis of Ms. Anderson’s skin color prompted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to publicly resign from the organization.
-from the FDR Library
“My grandfather was an Army Officer in World War I. My three uncles all volunteered and fought in World War II (William Jr. was a Tuskegee Airman), and my father [Franklin Delano Roosevelt Green] volunteered and fought in Korea. After Korea he became an attorney in Philadelphia. He was one of the first African American attorneys to work for the Department of Labor and was a law partner of civil rights pioneer Cecil Moore.”Read the full story of the letters here.
Happy Birthday Marian Anderson!
Eleanor Roosevelt first met African American opera singer Marian Anderson in 1935 when the singer was invited to perform at the White House.
Four years later, in January of 1939, Howard University invited Marian Anderson to perform in Washington, DC for an Easter concert. Anticipating large crowds for the acclaimed singer, the University asked the Daughters of the American Revolution if they could use their auditorium, Constitution Hall in downtown Washington. The DAR refused the request. As part of the original funding arrangements for Constitution Hall, major donors had insisted that only whites could perform on stage.
On February 26, 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt submitted her letter of resignation to the DAR president, declaring that the organization had “set an example which seems to me unfortunate” and that the DAR had “an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way” but had “failed to do so.”
Mrs. Roosevelt’s resignation thrust the Marian Anderson concert, the DAR, and the subject of racism to the center of national attention. As word of her resignation spread, Mrs. Roosevelt and others quietly worked behind the scenes promoting the idea for an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial, just blocks away from Constitution Hall.
On April 9th, seventy-five thousand people, including dignitaries and average citizens, attended the outdoor concert. It was as diverse a crowd as anyone had seen—black, white, old, and young—dressed in their Sunday finest. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio. Ms. Anderson opened her concert with America. The operatic first half of the program concluded with Ave Maria. After a short intermission, she then sang a selection of spirituals familiar to the African American members of her audience. And with tears in her eyes, Marian Anderson closed the concert with an encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.