I am not doctor tout va bienovich. But a review in Sunday's
Globe of The Sounds of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial,
and the Concert That Awakened America by Raymond Arsenault
makes a tonic historical point. I know that many of our young
readers (and some of our middle-aged readers, too) don't know who Marian
Anderson was. She was an ear-riveting gospel singer and truly
amazing operatic soprano (permitted on the stage of the Metropolitan
Opera only near the beginning of her decline) who in 1939 was denied the
rental of Constitution Hall which was owned by the Daughters of the
American Revolution. Oh, yes, before I forget, Anderson was a Negro
when "negro" was an advance on colored.
The D.A.R. was not, as we always knew, committed to the ultimate principles of our revolution but to the narrow and confining habits of racial disdain. In any case, Franklin D. Roosevelt heard about this travesty--or perhaps it was Eleanor--and offered Anderson's impresario, Sol Hurok, the Lincoln Memorial as a venue for the singer's concert.
It is seventy years now since Marian Anderson sang to a mixed crowd on the Washington Mall. Close to that anniversary, the American people marked the first hundred days of Barack Obama's presidency which, of course, was inaugurated on that very mall. History crawls slowly, and its achievements never come fast enough. But, on reflection and even accounting for the bravery and pain experienced in the civil rights struggle, the journey to the end, which is also the journey to the beginning, was not so long.