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America's Front Yard



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Historic Stage
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress

Known for her rich contralto voice, Marian Anderson became an icon in the struggle against discrimination when she drew a crowd of 75,000 to the National Mall on Easter Sunday, 1939. More notable than her performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was the controversy surrounding the event. The Mall was not the venue that Anderson's hosts originally had in mind. Howard University officials had invited her to give a benefit concert for its School of Music, and asked the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for the use of its auditorium, Constitution Hall. The DAR had a policy against allowing appearances by black artists. Outraged, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and, with the help of her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Secretary of the Interior Howard Ickes, arranged for Anderson's performance at the Lincoln Memorial instead. Twenty-four years later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the same spot.





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