City Cast

Remembering Marian Anderson Iconic Lincoln Memorial Show

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on September 12
Recital on the steps of Lincoln Memorial.

After being barred from singing in the concert hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, singer Marian Anderson gave a free, open-air recital on the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (Bettman/Getty Images)

The National Mall is currently taken over by the art exhibition “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together” which features installations by six artists attempting to answer the question "What stories remain untold on the National Mall?"

The exhibition culminates in a statue of Marian Anderson outside the Lincoln Memorial. The statue – titled “Of Thee We Sing” – commemorates Anderson’s iconic 1939 Easter Sunday performance.

In the midst of World War II and the Great Depression, international singer Marian Anderson was invited by Howard University to perform at Constitution Hall. But the building was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and apparently, there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract they issued.

In search of somewhere to host the large crowd, Anderson decided to perform outside, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Over 75,000 people attended her historic concert. Rumor has it that the gray April day broke and the sun shone through as she sang “My Country, 'Tis of Thee”.

Her concert on the Mall is now seen as a remarkable moment in civil rights history and a stance against racism, setting the stage for civil rights battles to come. Anderson's mink coat is preserved at the Anacostia Community Museum for public viewing.

"Of Thee We Sing" at the Lincoln Memorial Plaza as part of the Beyond Granite exhibition.

"Of Thee We Sing" at the Lincoln Memorial Plaza as part of the Beyond Granite exhibition. (Photo by Steve Weinik)

The Beyond Granite exhibition runs until Sept. 18. You can find a map to the installations below. But, I promise you’ll get more out of it if you listen to our podcast about it beforehand!

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