I was just watching a WETA segment on our national parks when I came upon the Marian Anderson story and how the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall, which they owned.
Upset by the incident, Eleanor Roosevelt urged Harold Ickes (the former president of the Chicago NAACP & then Secretary of the Interior) to arrange for the opera singer to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. Ms. Anderson performed there on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, to a crowd of 75,000 admiring onlookers. The event was also broadcast on national radio.
Of course, all of this and more are well known. What is far less known is that invitations were sent out to the all of the Justices of the Supreme Court. (See Gerald T. Dunne, Hugo Black & the Judicial Revolution 304 (1977)). One Justice accepted, which brings me back to my public television story.
If you go to the YouTube clip of the Anderson concert, you will see Justice Black in the audience (1 minute & 19 seconds into it).
By that time in 1939 Justice Black had been on the Court for some 20 months — this 15 years before Brown. Most likely, word of Justice Hugo Black’s solo appearance made its way to Alabama, his home state. And yet, he was there (see pic) and the newsreels captured it all, too.
For an account of the concert and its historical significance, see Raymond Arsenault, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, & the Concert that Awakened America (2009).