70 years ago tomorrow contralto Marian Anderson stood before 75,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She sang outdoors, invited by Eleanor Roosevelt after The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her appear at Constitution Hall. Roosevelt resigned from the DAR.
“In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free,” said Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, when introducing Anderson notes Alex Ross in The New Yorker.
Tomorrow, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves leads a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in tribute to Anderson on the seventieth anniversary of that Easter Sunday concert.
From Ross’s thoughtful article, I pulled these vignettes. They remind myself of the power of returning words and acts of anger or hate, not with bitterness but with grace:
• When the Nassau Inn, in Princeton, New Jersey, refused to give Anderson a room, she spent the night at the home of Albert Einstein.
• Although she refused to sing in halls that employed “horizontal segregation”—that is, with whites in the orchestra and blacks in the galleries—for many years she did accept vertical segregation, with whites on one side of the aisle and blacks on the other.
Anderson usually took her meals in her hotel room, in order not to cause complications in restaurants. “I always bear in mind that my mission is to leave behind me the kind of impression that will make it easier for those who follow,” she explained in her memoir.
• In Birmingham, Alabama, during the Second World War, she had to stand outside a train-station waiting room while her accompanist, the German pianist Franz Rupp, went to fetch a sandwich for her. Sitting inside was a group of German prisoners of war.
How to Change Hearts and Minds: Lessons Learned from Marion’s Life Story
When you disagree with someone’s actions or words or hope to persuade others to believe and act differently:
1. Don’t just speak up but also take significant public action that reinforces your stand. Roosevelt resigned from the DAR.
2. If you or someone else is unfairly denied an opportunity, find a way to make a greater opportunity available. When Roosevelt invited Anderson to sing outdoors she created a very public, world stage upon which Anderson could demonstrate her talents.
3. Turn others’ personal insults or injustices into public lessons from which a larger group can learn.
4. You lift us up to better behavior when you don’t just speak against a wrong but also speak for a greater right. Describe a specific way we can act, not just what we did wrong. As Adlai Stephenson once said, “When you throw mud you get dirty.”
5. To make it easier for people to see the situation your way or to agree, invoke the Power of Previous Precedent. Refer to similar earlier situations or decisions so that you are not asking people to do something new or different. You make your suggested action the obvious choice.
How you want to be viewed or what you are asking others to do is “merely” a continuation of what they or others have already done before or what has happened in the past. When King and then Obama chose the Lincoln Memorial, they chose that place - not just a U.S. stage but a world stage, open to all people, calling for a new era, just as Anderson did 70 years ago tomorrow.
6. Most of all, whether you are poor or rich, famous or unknown, you have the priceless power of describing a situation so vividly that others instinctively remember and repeat your description. With just words your belief can catch fire and spread, becoming the most familiar view of that situation and eventually sometimes, the assumed truth. Ickes labeling of Anderson’s talents are so vivid they continue to be cited years later.
Whoever most vividly describes a situation most influences how others see it, then feel, think and talk about it and act on it.