Eleanor Roosevelt, the D.A.R., and Marian Andersen

85 years ago today, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) after the organization barred famous contralto Marian Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall. Howard University had invited Anderson to sing in Washington but the DAR owned the hall. They said No.

Here’s a draft of the strongly worded letter she sent to the President of the DAR, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, Jr.

Roosevelt also wrote about it in her weekly column, saying, “To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.”

To those who can’t seem to grasp that widely-discussed news events existed before the age of social media, this was a well-publicized uproar that brought national headlines.

The federal government – at the urging of the First Lady – invited Marian Anderson to come to Washington a couple months later – on Easter Sunday – and give a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people showed up.

Anderson wrote later that looking out at that massive crowd was terrifying: “I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now.” One of the songs she sang was “My Country Tis Of Thee.” Amazingly, we have video of this.

Please note that she changed the lyrics from “Of thee I sing” to “Of thee WE sing.”

A couple months after THAT, the NAACP chose Anderson for their annual Springarn Medal “for her special achievement in music.” Eleanor Roosevelt attended and presented Anderson with the award. This is truly a First Lady using her platform to “Be Best.”

Eventually, years later, Anderson DID sing at the venue that had barred her entry, and in 2014 a tribute concert for Anderson was held at Constitution Hall. Toscanini said that a voice like Anderson’s comes along once in a generation.

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3 Responses to Eleanor Roosevelt, the D.A.R., and Marian Andersen

  1. ed carlevale says:

    great post sheila! standing up for others, one voice in defense of another. So simple, so powerful. You usually don’t go the inspirational route, at least not so directly as you do here, but boy is it welcome now! best,

  2. I’m teaching a class on civil rights this semester and trying to account for my students how social attitudes shifted from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to Brown v. Board (1954). A lot had to happen in society before the Supreme Court took a second look at American apartheid, and Mrs. Roosevelt was an important leader. I love this story.

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