Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 15, 1939

On April 15, 1939, the Chicago Defender reported on contralto Marian Anderson’s landmark performance before 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. “Intolerance received one of the heaviest blows of the ages Easter Sunday,” the Defender wrote, “when Marian Anderson, internationally acclaimed contralto, sang from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial here to what was considered the largest single audience ever to attend an affair of this kind in the United States.”  

Anderson was invited to sing in Washington as part of a Howard University concert series, but the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Anderson perform at Constitution Hall because she was black. NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White had the idea to move the concert outdoors to the Lincoln Memorial, and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes managed the logistics and led Anderson to the stage.  

The Norfolk Journal and Guide emphasized the importance of Anderson’s concert taking place on a religious holy day: “Easter Sunday is the day on which Jesus Christ triumphed over the evil of the crucifixion. Appropriately, the anniversary of the Resurrection is the date on which America’s great symbol of figurative crucifixion, Marian Anderson, will rise from the grave to which she had been consigned by prejudice and discrimination.” (Click to view article PDF.)

Here is the newsreel film of Anderson’s concert from UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “Hearst Metrotone News Collection”: 


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