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Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Marion Anderson; Start of the modern civil rights era.

    Non-fiction "The Sound of Freedom - Marian Anderson, The Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America" by Raymond Arsenault 219p

    Miss Anderson was raised in S. Philadelphia in a quite poor family, but used her incredible contralto singing voice and her quiet dignity to transcend the color bar in America and become a premier recital artist in Europe and then America. Along the way, the D.A.R refused to allow her to perform on Easter Sunday April 1939 in their Washington D.C. Constitution Hall. The substitute venue at the a cold blustery Lincoln Memorial allowed 75,000 or so attendees and millions on NBC to hear her sing "America" and 6 other songs. I consider this protest the start of the modern civil rights era as the battle moved from the courtrooms to the hearts and streets of America. It was the first time masses of Americans including persons in high leadership roles turned out to participate in a moral statement against the Jim Crow laws and customs of the 1930's. The exclusion by the D.A.R. was widely compared with the unpopular Nazi's racial policies and the ideals of the USA and a calculated PR campaign was initiated to change America. In the summer of 1941, A. Phillip Randolph, leader of the Railway Porter's Union, inspired by the turnout for Anderson's 1939 concert, used the threat of a "March On Washington" to force President Roosevelt to consider his demands to desegregate the military, removal the color bar to Federal employment, and to end racial discrimination in the 1941 rapidly expanding military contracting sector. Roosevelt, greatly fearing the demonstration's potential for mass violence in the Southern White culture of Washington, DC, countered with a proposal to open the US Navy and Marines to segregated units, and to establish a Fair Employment Commission to consider fair employment practices at defense plants. Randolph accepted and canceled the 1941 "March on Washington" but the tactic was renewed and utilized in the 1960's. This move from the courtroom and lobbying of Congress and legislatures to the streets with mass PR, marked a basic change in Civil Rights strategy in my view.

    Ms. Anderson was born almost the same year as my father, so the story of America over those years was the story he experienced, although his life in small town Kansas was quite different then the big cities of the America and Europe Ms. Anderson experienced. Still, he loved vocal music and her renown as an artist was clearly something he was aware of.

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