Marian Anderson at her defining moment, Easter 1939. Photograph by Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images
One of the pitfalls of living in a city so well stocked with Historical Characters of Great Import (HCGIs) is that many compelling figures fade into the collective shadow of white guys in breeches. Case in point: When the U.S. Treasury announced three years ago that Marian Anderson would appear on the new $5 bill, the typical response — particularly among younger Philadelphians — was a resounding “Wait, who?”
Born in South Philly in 1897, Anderson was the 20th century’s Beyoncé, an opera superstar who sold out concerts around the globe, entertained presidents and kings, and brought audiences to tears singing Verdi and Schubert along with black spirituals. Her warm, clear contralto was famously described by conductor Arturo Toscanini as a voice heard “once in a hundred years.”
Though she rose to fame in (and despite) Jim Crow America, Anderson rarely discussed the indignities of racism that she endured. But 80 years ago this month, the course of history was permanently altered. After the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Anderson the stage at Washington, D.C.’s segregated Constitution Hall, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped arrange for her to sing instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939 — turning the world’s most famous singer into a civil rights icon.
Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson in Japan, May 22, 1953.
As the curtain closes on Boheme NJ’s production of Guiseppe Verdi’s “Aida” with the final notes, images and sounds still fresh, this column and day honors the memory and life of opera singer Marian Anderson.
Exactly eighty years ago, on Easter Sunday April 9, 1939, Ms. Anderson, a world-renowned contralto, graced more than 75,000 fans with a concert delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson had hoped to sing inside Constitution Hall but a “white-artist-only” clause supported by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), denied the talented black songbird entry.
Anderson biographer Allan Keiler noted, “They refused to allow her use of the hall because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR.”
Still, a radio listening audience allegedly reached millions as Anderson offered classical selections, Negro spirituals and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, an eloquent rebuttal to the DAR racism, bigotry and discrimination. Anderson had supportive voices, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Roosevelt penned an abrupt letter that left no doubt about where she stood on this social matter.
Before 1792, most Americans had money troubles. Goods and services could be exchanged for pieces of gold or silver if people had them. Some would use British or Spanish coins. Tobacco leaves, shells and pieces of land were other options. Colonies issued their own type of paper currency, but it wasn’t reliable to use when trading and traveling. But on April 2, 1792, Congress established what is now one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world: the dollar.
“In America, they used whatever they could get their hands on,” said Frank Noll, a historical consultant for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “But the Coinage Act established the dollar as a unit of currency for the United States.”
The Coinage Act of 1792 created the U.S. Mint, an institution dedicated to producing coins and controlling their movement around the world. The first official American currency was…
Hauser Visiting Leader, HKS Center for Public Leadership (Spring 2019) Founder, FullSky Partners; Pulitzer Prize Winner
Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, is a business executive, lecturer, and best-selling author. Currently, she is co-founder of FullSky Partners, which works with socially-driven ventures, and a Venture Partner at Piedmont Partners Group Ventures, a small private equity group based in San Francisco.
Previously, Ms. WuDunn served as a vice president in the investment management division at Goldman, Sachs & Co. and as a commercial loan officer at Bankers Trust. She also worked at The New York Times as both an executive and journalist notably as a foreign correspondent for The Times in Tokyo and Beijing, where she wrote about economic, financial, political and social issues.
She is co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a New York Times best-selling book about the challenges facing women around the globe.
With her husband Nicholas D. Kristof, she has co-authored two best-selling books about Asia: Thunder from the East and China Wakes. She and her husband are recipients of a Pulitzer Prize for their work covering China. Most recently, WuDunn and Kristof authored A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity that also inspired a PBS-documentary, which both provide a unique and essential narrative about making a difference in the world — and a roadmap to becoming a conscientious global citizen.
Ms. WuDunn received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2011. That year Newsweek cited Ms. WuDunn as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
She graduated from Cornell University, where she is a member of the Board of Trustees. She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She is a recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College. She was a Senior Lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs in fall, 2011.
Hauser Visiting Leader, HKS Center for Public Leadership (Spring 2019) Op-ed Columnist, The New York Times; Pulitzer Prize winner
Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The Times since 2001, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who writes op-ed columns that appear twice a week. Mr. Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Oregon. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College and then studied law at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.
After joining The New York Times in 1984, initially covering economics, he served as a Times correspondent in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. He later was Associate Managing Editor of The Times, responsible for Sunday editions. In 1990 Mr. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, then also a Times journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Mr. Kristof won a second Pulitzer in 2006, for commentary for what the judges called “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.”
In his column, Mr. Kristof was an early opponent of the Iraq war. He among the first to warn that we were losing ground to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and raise doubts about WMD in Iraq.
Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn are authors of China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, and Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia. Together they wrote Half the Sky: From Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which was the inspiration of The Half the Sky Movement that seeks to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide. Most recently, Kristof and WuDunn authored A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity that also inspired a PBS-documentary, which both provide a unique and essential narrative about making a difference in the world — and a roadmap to becoming a conscientious global citizen.
Renewed great power competition, the continued rise of forces challenging the nation state, climate change, and increasing levels of urbanization and global interconnectedness will ensure the world’s urban areas increasingly factor into US national security interests. Any effort to secure US interests will likely involve the US military, but is it trained and ready to conduct urban operations in an era of increasing urbanization?
Come and join Lieutenant Colonels Goedecke and Putnam for a fireside chat that will provide some deep insights.
Tuesday, April 23, 7-8pm, in the FDR Suite (Adams B-17)
On the eve NATO’s 70th anniversary, as American bombers redeploy to Europe for the first time in decades, it is essential to discuss the implications of US military operations around the world. Those operations – especially those meant to be seen – send messages to US allies and adversaries alike. Are they the correct messages and are they received in the manner intended?
Bryan Bailey is an Air Force cargo pilot, who in more than 17 years of operational experience has flown US military aircraft to 58 different countries on all 7 continents. He has knowingly, and unknowingly, been part of many of those missions. From humanitarian aid to Haiti and Iran, to counter drug support in Columbia – from airlifting Mongolian troops to the warzone, to taking Jordanians home – from combat airdrop resupply of isolated units in Afghanistan, to medivac of US wounded inside the lifesaving “golden hour” – no one questions the US military’s ability to move around the globe – at least not yet.
As freedom of navigation through the sea, air, space and cyberspace becomes contested, how or even should the US continue to assume dominance as a global power projector?
Wednesday, April 3, 7-8pm in the FDR Suite (Adams House B-17)