Historical Highlights

The Congressional Gold Medal for Singer Marian Anderson

March 08, 1977
The Congressional Gold Medal for Singer Marian Anderson Image courtesy of National Archives Records Administration In March 1971, Walter Fauntroy, the former Southern Christian Leadership Conference's congressional lobbyist, was elected the District of Columbia's first Delegate in nearly 100 years.
On this date, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill conferring a Congressional Gold Medal upon singer Marian Anderson. It marked the first time that the honor—bestowed on military figures and leading Americans from the sciences, sports, and humanitarian causes—was given to an African American. The House had passed the bill by a vote of 398 to 4 on February 23. Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia managed floor debate of the measure which, in part, recognized the Anderson “for her untiring and unselfish devotion to the promotion of the arts in this country…[and] for her strong and imaginative support to humanitarian causes at home.” Anderson achieved worldwide fame for her rich contralto music. The great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini once declared that "a voice like hers occurs once in a hundred years.” Anderson was also revered for her quiet determination in challenging racial barriers. She was the first African American to perform at the White House during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and, starting in 1955, the first to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company. In 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Anderson sing in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her D.A.R. membership. Instead, Anderson sang on the Lincoln Memorial steps before more than 75,000 people who lined the Reflecting Pool on Easter Sunday 1939. She recalled decades later, “my heart beat like mad—it’s never beat like that before—loud and strong as though it wanted to say something…I don’t like to use the word protesting but my reaction was, what have I done that should bring this onto my heart?…I just wanted to sing and to share.”

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