Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson
Eleanor Roosevelt: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two days


In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) denied Marian Anderson permission to sing at Constitutional Hall in Washington D.C. because she was a “singer of color.”  Upon hearing this, Eleanor Roosevelt renounced her membership in the DAR and arranged for this world distinguished singer to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  On April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson bravely accepted this invitation and drew a crowd of 75,000 to the Memorial and an audience of millions through the broadcast of her performance.  In July 1939, Anderson received the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP, presented by Eleanor Roosevelt.


In this lesson students will gain an understanding of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.


1. Have students, as a homework assignment, learn about Jim Crow laws using the following PBS timeline available on the web:

2. Tell students to take notes and that they will be asked questions and receive points for answering questions about what they read.

3. Prior to students coming to class, assign seats, placing students with glasses on one side of the room and those without glasses on the other side.

4. Ask students the following questions about the Jim Crow law:

  • What is the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • What was Reconstruction?
  • What is the Ku Klux Kan and when did it begin?
  • What is the 14th Amendment?
  • Who was Jim Crow?
  • When and why was the Civil Right movement declared unconstitutional?
  • What was the Niagara Movement?
  • What was the Brownsville Affair?
  • What was the Harlem Renaissance?
  • Why did Brown v. The Board of Education signify the beginning of the end of Jim Crow?

5.  Throughout the question and answer portion of the lesson, avoid calling on students without glasses.  When students with glasses answer questions correctly, praise them enthusiastically or reward them with a piece of candy; when students with glasses answer questions incorrectly, tell the class that it is understandable because that was a particularly difficult question.  When a student without glasses gets an answer correct, tell them that you think they were just lucky; when a student without glasses answers a question incorrectly, suggest that they probably did not work hard enough or should have gotten it correct.  

6.  At the end of the question/answer portion of the lesson, ask students if they noticed anything different about your behavior and explain that you were acting toward the students without glasses in a manner similar to the way that African Americans were treated for over one hundred years by the entire nation. 

7. Ask students to discuss how they felt during the question/answer period.

8. Explain that your behavior toward the students without glasses was extremely mild compared to the way African Americans have been treated and tell them Marian Anderson’s story.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend the lesson, have students research the life of Marian Anderson and write an essay about how she might have felt before and after singing at the Lincoln Memorial.

Sources & Resources:

Marian Anderson:

Jim Crow:


This lesson was inspired by a lesson written by Denise Demby and Louis Pasteur, of Little Neck, NY, retrieved from adapted by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.