On this day in 1939, Marian Anderson sang before an audience of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. With the statue of the 16th President looming behind her, Anderson opened her concert with “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” followed by an Italian aria, “Ave Maria” and three spirituals. The concert was also carried nationwide via radio.
The outdoor location was chosen because Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, refused to host Anderson due to the color of her skin. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard about it, she resigned her D.A.R. membership in disgust. Four years later, the D.A.R. invited Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall for a war-benefit concert. Anderson did so on the condition that the audience be integrated. The organization agreed, though they did not lift their official ban on black performers until 1953.
Introducing Anderson on a chilly Easter morning, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes said, “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free. When God gave us this wonderful outdoors, he made no distinction of race or creed or color.”
Noting the symbolism of the concert’s location, Ickes continued, “Abraham Lincoln laid down his life. And so it is as appropriate as it is fortunate that today we stand reverently and humbly at the base of this memorial to the Great Emancipator while glorious tribute is rendered to his memory by a daughter of the race from which he struck the chains of slavery.”
Centuries ago, on the final night of his earthly life, Jesus left his own memorial. Offering up Passover bread and wine, he said to his disciples and the church for all time, “This is my body…this is my blood” (Luke 22:19-20). Some congregations call it the Eucharist, others Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Some believe the elements are the real body and blood of Christ; others see them as symbols pointing to Jesus and his unrivaled sacrifice. Despite these differences, we are bound by this holy practice, which reminds us that Christ did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
“See him set forth before your eyes;
behold the bleeding sacrifice;
his offered love make haste to embrace,
and freely now be saved by grace.”
Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast by Charles Wesley, 1747