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Marian Anderson (pictured) was one of the finest contraltos of her day. She sung before heads of Europe. A piece “Solitude” was written especially for her by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, one of the most internationaly popular composers of the late 19th and early 20th century.
But when Anderson tried to rent Constitution Hall in 1939 for her Washington, D.C. dubut, the all-white women’s society and building’s owner, the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), denied her because she was African-American.
When D.A.R. member and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured) learned of this shameful discrimination, she promptly resigned from the D.A.R. in her syndicated newspaper column and brought in Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes (pictured) to arrange a performance for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial.
75,000 people attended that performance, enough to fill several Constitution Halls. Four years later, the D.A.R. invited Anderson to sing at a benefit for the American Red Cross.
On January 7, 1955, Anderson became the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. In 1958, she was officially designated delegate to the United Nations. She was awarded the UN Peace Prize in 1972.
Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed delegate to the United Nations in 1945.