On April 9, 1939, legendary African-American contralto Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial, a concert that was arranged after Daughters of the American Revolution organizers refused to let her perform at Washington’s Constitution Hall. This newsreel from the UCLA Film & Television Archive‘s Hearst Metrotone News Collection captures the moment. From NPS.gov:
At that time, Constitution Hall was the only local venue large enough to accommodate Anderson’s typical audience, but the venue banned black performers. The organization would not make an exception for Anderson and claimed the hall was already booked. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, arranged for her to sing instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes helped organize the Easter Sunday event… Accompanied by a piano, Anderson first serenaded an integrated crowd of 75,000 people with the patriotic ballad, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” The entire concert lasted 25 minutes.
Although Anderson and the DAR maintained the incident was merely a misunderstanding, the singer’s outdoor concert became a symbol for Civil Rights activism nation-wide.
Hear more about her performance in PBS NewsHour’s Echoes from Marian Anderson’s defiant performance as well as in this music-filled episode of The Past & The Curious, a history podcast for kids.
Then watch more videos that orbit the civil rights movement, including Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Nina Simone plays live in London, Notable Women, an AR app that adds 100 historic American women to U.S. currency, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the same location.
Plus: More videos from the 1930s.