In 1939 Marian Anderson was at the peak of her career as an opera singer, yet she was denied the opportunity to present a concert at the DAR’s Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.—not because of anything she had done, but because she was black. That incident resulted in a nationwide protest, led by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The concert was eventually moved to the Lincoln Memorial, where Ms. Anderson attracted a throng of 75,000 people to what became an electrifying moment (and sometimes overlooked milestone) in civil rights history. The focus of this lecture will be the significance of that concert and the life of the musical pioneer who has been likened to a female Jackie Robinson for her brave and path-breaking career.
Raymond Arsenault received his B.A. from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. A specialist in the political, social, and environmental history of the American South, he has also taught at the University of Minnesota, Brandeis, and as a Fulbright lecturer in France. Since 1980 he has been a Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida. In addition, he has lectured internationally and has served as a consultant for numerous museums and public institutions. His extensive writings include books and articles on a wide range of topics in southern history, among them the biography of the colorful Arkansas politician Jeff Davis and the 2006 publication, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Professor Arsenault has spoken twice previously in the Great Lives program—on civil rights leader James Farmer and on the Freedom Riders.