“A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years,” Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini told Marian Anderson after he heard her sing during a European concert tour.
The brilliant black singer had traveled to Europe in the 1930s to avoid the racial prejudice she faced in America.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard that Anderson had been turned away and withdrew her membership from the DAR.
When I need hope, I often look to history—specifically the history of black artistic excellence in America.
But there was something inherently political about a black woman singing classical music on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to 75,000 people.
Leontyne Price, who turns 92 on Feb. 10, went to hear Anderson sing at a recital in Jackson, Miss. when she was 9 years old.
That’s the same year Anderson broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the first black soloist at the famed opera house.
Black people were rarely seen on television at the time and interracial marriage and dating was also illegal in many southern states.
Aware of the history, she stood there and dedicated her performance to Anderson, who 43 years earlier had been turned away by that organization.
Anderson and Price dared to create a space for themselves that did not exist before.
The tough times for black folks and trans folks in this country are not over.
But the history of black excellence in America gives us a template for how to fight—and how to not be demoralized by the fight.
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