Thursday, August 5, 2021

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HomeVideoMarian Anderson, Constitution Hall and the NAACP | Voice of Freedom

Marian Anderson, Constitution Hall and the NAACP | Voice of Freedom

In the early 20th Century, Washington D.C. had no large public halls like the Kennedy Center today. If a major performer, symphony orchestra, opera company wanted to perform in the city, their best venue was the 3,700-seat Constitution Hall. However, the Daughters of the American Revolution had a say over who they would allow to rent their hall, and at the time they would not permit non-white performers to use the space. And so Marian Anderson —the highest-paid singer at the time, an international sensation and a Black woman — was denied use of the venue. Howard University decided to challenge this rule and eventually got the head of the NAACP, Walter White, to join the campaign for Anderson.

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On Easter Sunday, 1939, contralto Marian Anderson stepped up to a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Inscribed on the walls of the monument behind her were the words “all men are created equal.” Barred from performing in Constitution Hall because of her race, Anderson would sing for the American people in the open air. Hailed as a voice that “comes around once in a hundred years” by maestros in Europe and widely celebrated by both white and black audiences at home, her fame hadn’t been enough to spare her from the indignities and outright violence of racism and segregation. Voice of Freedom interweaves Anderson’s rich life story with this landmark moment in history, exploring fundamental questions about talent, race, fame, democracy, and the American soul.