The rendition at the bottom of this post is by Marian Anderson, perhaps the most gifted songstress of her generation. A devout Christian, this granddaughter of slaves was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939. In 1939 the District of Columbia was controlled by committees of Congress. Democrat segregationists rigidly enforced rules of segregation in the District. Blacks were rightly upset that during a performance by Miss Anderson, if it had been held at Constitution Hall, they would have been required to sit in the back of the hall. The District of Columbia Board of Education, controlled by Democrats, declined to allow Marian Anderson to perform in the auditorium of a white school. To her credit, Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband arranged for Anderson to give her unforgettable performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday.
During the war years, Miss Anderson spent a large part of her time entertaining troops. In 1943, at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang before an integrated audience for a Red Cross benefit at Constitution Hall. The always gracious Miss Anderson remembered the event: When I finally walked onto the stage of Constitution Hall, I felt no different than I had in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall and I was very happy to sing there.
A new series beginning on PBS tonight: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. A seven part Ken Burns history marathon it will examine the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Burns is a fairly strident liberal Democrat so it will be interesting to see if FDR and Eleanor are treated as plaster saints, or if we will sight any meaningful analysis of those complex figures.
Theodore Roosevelt was a cousin of Franklin and an uncle to Eleanor. He loomed large over their lives, Theodore acting as conservator of the drunken, suicidal Elliott, his beloved black sheep brother, the father of Eleanor, and Franklin seeking to model himself and his career after his famous fifth cousin. Ironically, the contrasts between Theodore and Franklin are stark. Theodore’s brand of progressive Republicanism was rejected by his party, while Franklin was successful in remodeling the Democrat party into the embodiment of the progressive nostrums of his time. Theodore was an extremely moral man who exercised absolute fidelity to his two wives, his first wife having died on the same day as his mother. Franklin Roosevelt was a precursor of such bounders as JFK, LBJ and Bill Clinton who exercised the moral probity of low rent Casanovas. Theodore Roosevelt, a man made to be a war president, was president in a time of profound peace for the nation; FDR achieved his lasting fame as commander in chief during World War II. Theodore’s political career ended in defeat in 1912, the Grim Reaper preventing a possible resurgence in 1920, Roosevelt having mended political fences with the Republican Party by his constant criticism of Wilson during World War I. FDR knew unprecedented political success as President, setting the dangerous precedent of being elected four times to the office, and only the Grim Reaper ending his grip on the White House. Continue Reading