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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Resourceful Researcher

Alert reader Christine Windheuser (also an Archives Center reference volunteer) handily solved the conundrum I presented in my previous blog, “Lazy Researcher.”  She discovered that the “other” Marian Anderson concert at the Lincoln Memorial was presented as the singer’s tribute to the former Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, at a memorial service held in his honor at the Memorial, with an estimated ten thousand listeners on the Mall.  Chris Windheuser (with a little help from ProQuest) located the Washington Post article, published April 21, 1952, which conclusively identified the occasion as a memorial service for Ickes, who died February 3, 1952.

Photograph by Robert S. Scurlock, April 9, 1939
Singer Marian Anderson speaking to Secretary of the Interior Harold S. Ickes before her concert at the Lincoln Memorial.  Assistant Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman (at right) was Secretary of the Interior when Marian Anderson sang at a memorial service for Ickes in 1952.  Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History 
Ickes was a liberal member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, a strong “New Deal” supporter, and administrator of the Public Works Administration, known as “Honest Harold” for his fight against corruption.  As a supporter of civil rights, he tried to address the concerns of both American Indians and African Americans.  Indeed, some biographical sources present him as a nearly heroic figure, fighting bigotry and racism.  It is not entirely clear (to me, anyway) why he was presented as an arrogant, comic caricature in the musical play “Annie,” in which he is forced by President Roosevelt to sing “Tomorrow.”

Photograph by Robert S. Scurlock, April 9, 1939.
Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes (center).
Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow famed contralto Marian Anderson to present a concert in Constitution Hall, Ickes offered the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall as a stunning open-air alternative.  Her Easter Sunday concert in 1939 was a landmark event in the history of civil rights.  Robert S. Scurlock photographed that historic recital, attended by a reported seventy-five thousand people.  When Ickes died years later, Oscar L. Chapman, Secretary of the Interior at the time, apparently chose to honor Ickes with this outdoor memorial service, and Marian Anderson was asked to sing in acknowledgment of her friendship with Ickes and to celebrate his efforts at eliminating racial barriers.  The Post quoted Chapman as saying, “The fullness of his [Ickes’s] leadership was vividly dramatized here 13 years ago.  And with her thrilling voice of genius, Marian Anderson on that glorious day, even as today, symbolized and reemphasized for the Nation and for the world that America really stands for equality of opportunity for all on the basis of individual merit.”

Anderson’s vocal program included “Ave Maria” (composer not cited)  Bach’s “Komm’ Susser Tod,” and “Beautiful City.”  Then she led the audience of an estimated ten thousand people in the singing of “America.”  I was delighted to learn that Marian Anderson had honored her mentor this way, and to learn the story behind the Scurlock images of her from the 1950s.  We are not yet certain if Robert Scurlock was again the photographer—it might have been his brother George, or another Scurlock Studio employee—but it seems highly likely that he was.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, Archives Center

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