Posts Tagged ‘Marian Anderson’

Reflections of meeting a civil rights activist with a powerful voice

July 1, 2020
Black Heritage Postage Stamp honoring the famed contralto

Yesterday, I commented in my blog post how touched I was by a video of celebrities singing a refrain from the Black spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I was moved to tears when I also heard my young grandson singing refrains from the same song. This morning I continued to reflect upon that experience as I recalled hearing lyrics of spirituals flowing from soul Marian Anderson, a vocal artist of extraordinary talent who left a legacy as one of the admired and respected persons of the 20th Century. I have fondest recollections of meeting the famed contralto during my final year at Purdue University.

Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity that I was a part of at the time, had just acquired a fraternity house on campus. That accomplishment was certainly historic for the black frat but not altogether recognized and celebrated as such at the time. When I learned that Ms. Anderson was offering a recital at Purdue as part of her farewell concert tour before retiring from the concert stage, I wrote to her and asked if she would consent to on our having a reception in her honor at our house. She was staying at the Purdue Memorial Union where she had broken the color barrier with her being the first person of color to stay at the hotel facilities when she first sang on campus back in the 1950s. Our fraternity house was less than a block away, and she graciously accepted the invitation.

When I met the renowned contralto, I recall recognizing greatness in this woman of magnanimous spirit. In the presence of “greatness,” there is an aura of reverential respect; one desires to bow or genuflect or demonstrate some gesture of obeisance. I remember this almost automatic response to overwhelming greatness. Without question, meeting Marian Anderson was one of the highlights, not only of my college career but of my life.

Here is an excerpt from a blog post where I comment on my encounter with greatness and pay tribute to Ms. Anderson:

As I continue to reflect upon past events, I realized that we are presently in the period between Ash Wednesday and Resurrection Sunday. An event of profound significance occurred in 1939 during Holy Week when Marian Anderson was scheduled to perform at Constitution Hall, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), but because she was African American, the DAR refused to allow her to use the facility. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, resigned from the DAR in protest, and she supported the NAACP as it organized an Easter Sunday concert on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial, with more than 75,000 Americans attending that integrated outdoor event. Here is a news clip of that momentous event.

Most ironically, Marian Anderson passed away over Easter weekend in 1993, and I wrote this tribute which opens with part of a line from James Weldon Johnson’s famous poem “O Black and Unknown Bards”:

“My Lord, What A Morning”—

In memory of Marian Anderson
1902-1993


“You sang a race. . .”
James Weldon Johnson

On this weekend celebrating
the Resurrection of the Savior,
when dogwood and rebud debut,
as jonquils and tulips spring forth
to remind us of new life,
we read the news of her passing.

Though her voice is hushed,
silenced by death’s icy finger,
a grace note sustains,
as memories remain
to strengthen her legacy.

The world is far richer because she lived
to weave her tapestry
of talent, grace, and humility.

I am grateful to have lived in this century,
to have heard that rare, rich contralto,
a voice that comes but once in a hundred years.

In this moment of silent reflection,
refrains from her life resonate
with the awesome beauty of Springtime:

“My Lord, What a Morning.”

Though the perilous uncertainty of our times
would menace and threaten as storm clouds,
above it all, her voice still shines,
to remind us, even now:

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Easter Sunday Morning
April 11, 1993


In 2005, Ms. Anderson was honored with a commemorative Black Heritage stamp featuring her portrait. Earlier that year I had read a passage from Exodus where the Children of Israel had to cross the River Jordan at flood stage. As I was reading some comments regarding our present age which has many parallels to crossing the Jordan, one of Ms. Anderson’s famous renditions of the spiritual “Deep River” came to mind: As I thought deeply about the lyrics and examined other situations, I was inspired to write this poem:

To Cross Over

Deep river, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.


Black Spiritual


To cross over the swelling Jordan is my goal.
Here I stand at the beginning of my harvest
When waters of the river overflow and crest
Above my tableland to overwhelm my soul.
Streams converge upon me as far as I can see
And flood my camp from shore to shore. The rising tide
Would hold me back and keep me from the other side,
But I prepare my heart and mind for victory.
As you sent forth the sacred ark of the covenant
Borne on the strong shoulders of the priests, reliant
Upon your command that the waters would recede,
So, shall those who trust you, never fail but succeed.
Though trials seem to hinder me on every hand,
I shall walk through this Jordan and stand on dry land.

My reflections proved to be a source of strength and encouragement, as I remembered Romans 15:4 in the Amplified Bible:

For whatever was thus written in former days was written for our instruction, that by [our steadfast and patient] endurance and the encouragement [drawn] from the Scriptures we might hold fast to and cherish hope.

Listen to a rendering of “Deep River” by the inimitable Marian Anderson:

Selma and events occurring 50 years ago

January 18, 2015

Selma_poster Nominated as one of the films for Best Picture, Selma, provides a chronicle of events and a cavalcade of people drawn to the Alabama town, one of the focal points of the Civil Rights Movement. The film culminates with final march from Selma to Montgomery, where Dr. Martin Luther King addresses thousands of non-violent protestors.

The March from Selma to Montgomery, AL occurred March 25, 1965, one of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement depicted in the recently released film Selma.

The March from Selma to Montgomery, AL,  one of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement.

My wife, Brenda, went to see the film last Friday on our weekly “date night,” and I was deeply moved by the film. I woke up the following morning, inspired to write the following poem:

 From Selma to Montgomery

There never was a moment in American history more honorable and

more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race

and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes

Martin Luther King

Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March

March 25, 1965

From Selma to Montgomery– five days on this tedious journey

Thousands meet at this pivotal place in American history

To celebrate gaining the God-given “precious right to vote,”

A hard fought goal attained when the prize seemed so remote:

Distant, bittersweet memories galvanized in the last century.

On the capitol steps hearts intertwine as a tapestry;

Clergy, people of every faith and walk of life come to see.

From the eloquent message flow words of wisdom that we quote

From Selma to Montgomery.

Holding high the blood-stained banner of this costly victory:

Blood of martyrs: Ms Viola, Rev. Reeb, and Jimmy Lee,

We pay tribute to Dr. King and others and devote

Our lives to establishing values that we promote,

As God commands: To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly

From Selma to Montgomery.

Graduating from Purdue University–1965 Purdue University College of PharmacyViewing Selma brought to mind other significant events occurring in 1965. In terms of my personal history, I recall that I graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy, as the first African American to graduate from Purdue’s newly established five-year program at that time. I went on to become a registered pharmacist and practiced pharmacy for more than twenty-five years. My personal blog “Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe” reflects my professional involvement as a pharmacist. Though I may no longer practice pharmacy and have not for twenty years, I still endeavor to compound “After the Art of the Apothecary,” the signature poem of my blog:

After the Art of the Apothecary

And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment,

an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary:

it shall be an holy anointing oil.

Exodus 30:25 [KJV]

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary

From the prescribed formulas for the remedies I need,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

I long to work circumspectly and always be wary,

To measure and mix precisely for love and not for greed.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary.

I recall yearning to learn from childhood days in Gary,

To weigh my decisions and follow as the Lord would lead,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

I seek to formulate my ideal art and to marry

Vocation and avocation as one of love and need.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary.

I attempt to move with wisdom but never to tarry

To master each prescription, to excel and to succeed,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

The sweet smelling savor I desire my life to carry

Is the pure, holy anointing oil tempered of my need.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

Meeting Marian Anderson–1965 Marian_Anderson_1951 Another event of historic significance occurred in 1965, the year I graduated from Purdue. Here is an excerpt from a blog entry entitled “Reflections on Meeting Marian Anderson: An Unforgettable Experience”:

I have fondest recollections of my meeting famed contralto during my final year at Purdue University. She was described as having “a voice heard once in a hundred years.” Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity that I was a part of at the time (Incidentally, Dr. King was also a member of that same fraternity), had just acquired a fraternity house on campus.  That accomplishment was certainly historic for the black frat but was not altogether recognized and celebrated as such at the time.

When I learned that Ms Anderson was offering a recital at Purdue as part of her farewell concert tour before retiring from the concert stage, I wrote to her and asked if she would consent to our having a reception in her honor at our house. She was staying at the Purdue Memorial Union where she had broken the color barrier with her being the first person of color to stay at the hotel facilities when she first sang on campus back in the 1950s. Our fraternity house was less than a block away, and she graciously accepted the invitation.

When I met Ms Anderson, I recall recognizing greatness in this woman of magnanimous spirit. In the presence of “greatness” there is such an aura of reverential respect that one desires to bow or genuflect or demonstrate some gesture of obeisance; it seems as I recollect, an almost automatic response to overwhelming greatness. Without question my meeting Marian Anderson was one of the highlights, not only of my college career but of my life.

Indeed, 1965 was a year of great significance in terms of African American history on a grand scale as well as on a personal level, and the film Selma caused me to reflect with gratitude, recalling events occurring fifty years ago.