National Archives and Records Administration


"I regret exceedingly that Washington is to be deprived of hearing Marian Anderson, a great artist."
--Eleanor Roosevelt, telegram to treasurer of Marian
Anderson Citizens Committee, reported in the New York
Times, February 27, 1939

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was First Lady for 12 years. An outspoken advocate of social justice, she became a moral force during the Roosevelt administration, using her position as First Lady to promote social causes.

File copy of letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to president general of the DAR.

In a dramatic and celebrated act of conscience, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when it barred the world-renowned singer Marian Anderson, an African American, from performing at its Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Following this well-publicized controversy, the federal government invited Anderson to sing at a public recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, some 75,000 people came to hear the free recital. The incident put both the artist and the issue of racial discrimination in the national spotlight.
The DAR had adopted a rule excluding African-American artists from the Constitution Hall stage in 1932 following protests over "mixed seating," blacks and whites seated together, at concerts of black artists. You may read a 2-page letter from Mrs. Henry M. Robert, Jr., president general of the DAR, responding to Mrs. Roosevelt's resignation. Page 1 (56K JPEG)and Page 2 (57K JPEG)..


 
View of 75,000 people gathered to hear recital by Marian Anderson at the 
steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939
(National Archives, Still Picture Branch, 306-NT-965B-4 )

In her autobiography, Anderson recalled the historic concert: "All I knew then was the overwhelming impact of that vast
multitude . . . I had a feeling that a great wave of good will poured out from these people."
The documents shown here are from the papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, which are at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York. Other National Archives records relating to the 1939 Easter Sunday concert are among the Records of the National Park Service.

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