The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

by Russell Freedman

Russell Freedman’s elegant, eloquent portrait of singer Marian Anderson is... read more

Russell Freedman’s elegant, eloquent portrait of singer Marian Anderson is not a comprehensive biography. Instead, it focuses on two key components of Anderson’s life: her own struggle to become a singer and her role as a symbol in the struggle for African American civil rights. Freedman begins the narrative with an exhilarating description of Anderson’s landmark concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, then moves back in time to explain how she came to be standing there. Her talent was recognized early on by family and a community that constantly showed its support. But as a young woman, Anderson was not even allowed to apply to a musical conservatory she hoped to attend because of her race. Once her professional performing career began, she had to travel and sing within the strict dictates of a Jim Crow society: train cars, waiting rooms, and audiences were segregated; hotels might not allow her to enter at all. Anderson never stopped striving to improve her art, and early on she knew failure as well as success. Later, she studied abroad to learn the subtleties of the European languages in which she often sang. It was in Europe that her fame took off (although she was already well known among many African Americans in the United States), but worldwide accolades were not enough for the Daughters of the American Revolution to allow her to sing in their Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. That rejection, on the basis of the DAR’s policy against Black performers, led to Eleanor Roosevelt (and others) spearheading the call for the DAR to recant. Anderson was thrust into the limelight in a new way: as a symbol in the fight for equality. It was not a role Anderson was prepared to take on, but she grew to embrace it with dignity and grace. Anderson’s later life is covered briefly in the final chapters of an inspiring and informative volume that includes archival photos, detailed source notes, and a bibliography. (Ages 10–14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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