Wednesday, April 9, 2014
The orange-and-black velvet ensemble Marian Anderson (1897-1993) wore during her Easter Sunday performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 has entered the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
In honor of the 75th anniversary of that historic concert -- seen by more than 75,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial -- the NMAAHC will put the classic skirt and blouse on display at the entrance to its gallery in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. It will be on view from Tuesday, April 8, until September 2014. Today is the 75th anniversary of her concert.
The concert attire is part of a collection donated to the museum by Ginette DePreist, the widow of the celebrated conductor James DePreist (who was Anderson's nephew).
By the time Anderson gave that Lincoln Memorial performance, she had established a stellar reputation in Europe. But despite her successes abroad, racial discrimination in the United States continued to create obstacles in her career. Howard University wanted to host Anderson for a concert in Washington, D.C., and approached the Daughters of the American Revolution about using Constitution Hall. The DAR had a policy that barred the use of the hall by African American performers, and Howard had made similar requests in the past without success. Once again, the DAR denied the concert planners' request. The DAR's refusal to let Anderson perform at Constitution Hall became a national story when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned her membership in the organization: "You had the opportunity to lead in an enlightened way, and it seems to me that your organization has failed." In response, Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes arranged for Anderson to give a public concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939.