It was 70 years ago today, Easter Sunday in 1939, that Marian Anderson, one of the world's great opera singers, performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The venue was chosen not to make room for the crowd, estimated at 75,000, but because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Anderson access to Constitution Hall because she was black.
Eleanor Roosevelt promptly resigned from the D.A.R. and President Roosevelt said yes to a concert on the mall. Tom Di Nardo of the Philly Daily News has a lovely story:
Wearing a mink coat and an orange-and-yellow scarf on that chilly afternoon, she changed the final phrase from "Of thee I sing" to "TO thee WE sing."
This modest African-American contralto had taken the train from her South Philadelphia rowhouse that day with her mother and sisters. Forbidden to stay at any Washington hotel due to segregation, they'd been promised lodging with former Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot.
This is a snippet of a French newsreel about that day. Another video, in English and with more singing -- embedding has been disabled; who knows why -- is here.