Marian Anderson illustrated by Karolin Schnoor
Marian Anderson used her rejection and status to shine a light on racial inequality and unite Americans.
Illustration by Karolin Schnoor.

Marian Anderson (1897–1993)

A famous contralto throughout Europe and the U.S., Marian Anderson was denied the right to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in 1939. Owned by the Daughters of the Revolution, the hall prohibited concerts by black performers, and even a vocalist of Anderson’s stature was denied the chance to sing at the renowned venue. Instead, she took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sang to the 75,000 gathered on the National Mall. During the first song of her performance, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,’” Anderson changed the lyrics from “of thee I sing” to “to thee we sing,” which united a community and cast her as an important figure in the fight against racial inequality in the performing arts.

“When I sing, I don’t want them to see that my face is black. I don’t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.” –Marian Anderson.

This feature originally appeared in the Rejection issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our Women in History section.