Friday, December 4, 2009

Eleanor Roosevelt Resigns from the Daughters of the American Revolution

In 1939, African American singer/songwriter Marian Anderson was invited to sing at the White House by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt, a long time supporter of Civil Rights, hoped that the invitation might alleviate some of the racial stereotypes of her day. Aside from her performance at the White House, Mrs. Anderson was booked to perform at Constitution Hall that same week as well.

Unfortunately, the racism of the day prevailed, and Marian Anderson was not granted access to Constitution Hall. Part of the reason for the denial was a 1932 rule adopted by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which stated that no person of color could perform at Constitution Hall. First Lady Roosevelt, who was a member of the organization, immediately resigned out of protest. Needless to say, the resignation of a person of Roosevelt's stature did not go unnoticed, and the organization changed its rules shortly thereafter.

The following is a copy of Eleanor Roosevelt's letter of resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution:
My Dear Mrs. Robert:

I am afraid that I have never been a very good member of the Daughters of the American Revolution so I know it will make very little difference to you whether I resign, or whether I continue to be a member of your organization.

However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send into you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.

I realize that many people will not agree with me, but feeling as I do this seems to me the only proper procedure to follow.

Very Sincerely yours,
Eleanor Roosevelt
Sadly, Anderson never performed at Constitution Hall, but Roosevelt's protest did not go unnoticed. On April 9, 1939, Anderson performed on Easter Sunday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where over 75,000 had assembled to hear her sing:

In her autobiography, Anderson recalled the historic concert: "All I knew then was the overwhelming impact of that vast multitude...I had a feeling that a great wave of good will poured out from these people."


Brian Tubbs said...

A low point for DAR. Thankfully, the organization eventually changed its ways. Thanks for posting, Brad.

Daniel said...

I don't think I had ever read the text of that letter. It's delightful. Although the humility is likely an affectation, I find it very powerful. Thanks.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yah, Daniel, that's how they wrote back in the day. I read the Founders that way, trying to figger out what they were saying.

Once you understand the era, the truth lies in what they didn't say. No talk of race or Negroes or other such speechifying.

Everybody in that era knew what Eleanor Roosevelt was saying. Everybody.

Brad Hart said...

I agree, Daniel. I love how her simplicity is overpowering.

MelaniVP said...

One of our finest First Ladies!