Marian Anderson (1897 – 1993) was an American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. With the aid of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Anderson continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Here is a video of her historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.
“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”
Bayard Rustin was the chief organizer for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Rustin’s expertise in nonviolent direct action assisted King in shaping the African-American Civil Rights movement. Bayard Rustin was raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania by Quaker grandparents who espoused pacifism. Although he was arrested 23 times for nonviolent protest, he never lost his conviction that equality should be pursued through nonviolent means.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Rustin organized nonviolent groups that became the foundation of the African-American Civil Rights movement, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1947, he coordinated the Journey of Reconciliation, an event that became the model for the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s. In 1955, Rustin was instrumental in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
As an expert in Gandhian nonviolent tactics, Bayard Rustin fostered nonviolence in the African-American civil rights movement. A superb strategist, Bayard Rustin experienced prejudice because of his sexual orientation and his controversial political positions. He was often relegated to a behind-the-scenes role.
Shortly before he died 1987, Rustin said at a gay rights rally: “Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, [or] lesbian.”
Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia. She worked as a social worker, teacher and lecturer, and took part in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Walker won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, and is also an acclaimed poet and essayist. She coined the term “Womanist” in her 1974 book “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” to describe black feminists. Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.
You may read more about her, along with recent blog posts, and find a full list of her published writings on her website.