Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Ironic Juxtaposition

The April 13, 2009 issue of The New Yorker magazine contains a review of new books that celebrate the life of contralto Marian Anderson who sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1939. She sang there because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to appear at Washington's largest concert venue, Constitution Hall.

When the DAR made its decision, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization, and President Roosevelt gave permission for the concert on the Mall. The Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, introduced Anderson saying, "In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free."

Marian Anderson was free to sing on the Mall in Washington, D. C., but during World War II, she was not free to do as she pleased in the South. In his book, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America (Bloomsbury)," historian Raymond Arsenault relates a story I had not heard before:

Anderson was often the victim of humiliation related to segregation, yet as Arsenault writes, "Throughout her life, she preferred not to make a scene." One of those instances occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, where Marian Anderson had to wait outside the waiting room in a train station while her German piano accompanist, Franz Rupp, went inside to get a sandwich for her.

Sitting INSIDE the waiting room was a group of German prisoners of war (most likely headed for Camp Aliceville).

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