As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's great speech, I hope that Marian Anderson does not go unmentioned. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin had first envisaged a March on Washington in 1941, two years after Anderson performed her great act of musical defiance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the staging of the 1963 ceremony recalled Anderson's recital. In an acknowledgment of her status, she was scheduled to open the 1963 program with the National Anthem, but surging crowds prevented her from reaching the podium in time. She later sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." As I pointed out in a 2009 article, it is surely no accident that King ended "I Have a Dream" with a recitation of the lyrics of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"; Anderson's imperturbable, subtly reproachful delivery of that song in 1939 was a pivotal moment in American civil-rights history, and King had remarked upon it in a speech he gave when he was fifteen years old. He was a keen opera listener, inclined more toward Italian repertory than toward W. E. B. Du Bois's beloved Wagner. In 1954, while driving to Montgomery, Alabama, to deliver his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King listened to Lucia di Lammermoor.
I took this picture at the Lincoln Memorial today. My father was at the March on Washington fifty years ago.