Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, April 8, 2007

At Easter time 68 years ago -- that is, within living memory -- the Daughters of the American Revolution denied permission for the black contralto Marian Anderson to sing before an integrated Washington audience in DAR Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization, and in a now-legendary aftermath, Anderson instead sang an open-air recital, organized by the Department of the Interior, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She began by singing "America" before the very large, integrated audience.

This famous event is the basis for a poem by Kevin Young, serving poetry's traditional role of providing a compact, vocal record of what is worth remembering:


Easter, 1939

The Revolution's Step-Daughters

will not let

Marian Anderson clear

her brown throat

onstage, among the blinding lights

of Constitution Hall --

it will take a First Lady to invite

Anderson to thrill

a throng at Lincoln's stone feet.

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