Marian Anderson: What I Had Was Singing

My favorite female singer is, and has been since I was a preteen, Marian Anderson, but I didn’t read her biography until I picked up Jeri Ferris’ book. Maybe I was afraid of being disillusioned, that her personality would not match her singing. A more comprehensive biography will undoubtedly reveal human flaws, but there’s no indication of anything that would let me down.

This book is written for younger readers, but this short version is written with an excellent selections of well-described incidents and includes a range of photographs. I’ll read a more comprehensive biography some other time. Jeri Ferris includes the main events of Marian’s life and if I were teaching about Jim Crow laws and discrimination, I’d use it as a teaching tool. From Marian’s first experience on a Jim Crow train to The Daughters of the American Revolution refusing to let her sing in their hall, the history of discrimination is effectively portrayed.

There was the time in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she was honored with keys to the city–and refused a room in a hotel…There was the time in Springfield, Illinois when she sang at the opening of a film on Abraham Lincoln–and was refused a room in the Lincoln Hotel.

Jeri Ferris, What I Had Was Singing

Marion’s mother told her to remember that, always, someone would be watching her and she must base her behavior on that.

Marion remembered hearing, as she walked along a residential street, a woman playing the piano. She peeked through the window and saw that it was a Black woman. She realized that she, too, could learn to play the piano. She found pictures of the keyboard, and taught herself. That woman never knew how the sight and sound of her playing had given one little girl the encouragement and incentive she needed, and coincidentally an object lesson illustrating her mother’s advice.

I’m not sure how the subject came up, but I remember clearly the evening my mother told me about the Daughters of the American Revolution keeping Marian out of their Constitution Hall. Some relative had offered to sponsor me as a DAR member, and my mother was not enthusiastic about it because when she asked whether I’d be interested, she told me about the DAR event and that killed any enthusiasm I might have had. At the time, I thought that snub was recent–in the 1950s; actually it was on Easter Sunday of 1939 that Marian sang at the Lincoln Memorial, by invitation of the Department of the Interior. That outdoor arena allowed 75,000 to hear her, twenty times the capacity of Constitution Hall. How I would have loved to be there! But that was before my time.

For a video on Eleanor Roosevelt’s part in this, and a bit of Marian Anderson’s concert, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwQCRUtzBsU

Marian Anderson, the legendary African-American contralto, sang at the Lincoln Memorial exactly 75 years ago after she was refused a performance at Washington’s Constitution Hall. On Wednesday [2014], young people gathered to commemorate Anderson’s effort to strike out against racism through the power and beauty of her voice. View more from Marian Anderson: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/marian…

Dr. Ida–for the Women of India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, started as a single-bed clinic, by Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder who served as a missionary for 50 years. Today, it is one of the top-ranked educational, healthcare and research institutes in the country.

The first class of 14 women—taught by Dr. Ida and a few of her associates, with only one microscope, one skeleton, and few textbooks—faced regional end-of-first-year examinations along with men from established government-run medical schools.  Dr. Ida tried to encourage the girls:

     “All anybody can expect of you is to do your best.”
     The girls were not deceived.  “Best” to Dr. Ida meant nothing short of 90 percent.  They huddled on the long, hard seats staring at each other in terrified silence…Examinations according to the British system were matters of educational life or death.
     Ida, herself one of the examiners, met Colonel Bryson in the hall…
     “Ah, Dr. Scudder! So you’ve brought up your first class for examination?”

“Yes.”  Ida smiled at him brightly.
            His face clouded with sympathetic concern.  “My dear doctor, please don’t be discouraged if none of your students makes the grade this first time.”
            “None of them?” echoed Ida bleakly.
            “”It wouldn’t be surprising…only a small percentage of men pass it.  Naturally we couldn’t expect too much of such a young project, especially all women.  But they can always try again.  Promise me you won’t give up, whatever happens.”
            “I promise,” said Ida.  She went on, head held high but heart sinking to the region of her shoes.
            The grim days passed. Huddled in a tight, silent group in the mission bungalow in Madras where they were housed, the girls waited to hear the results.  Lists from various men’s college were posted and read with dismay.  Only about 20 percent—one in five—was passing!
            “And we’re only women!” wailed one of the fourteen in anguish.
            In a note from the considerate Colonel Bryson, Ida learned the results before they were posted. The distance from college to mission bungalow seemed interminable.  She wished it were a tennis court or a racetrack so she could run at top speed and still be considered proper.  But she reached it finally, stood in the doorway of the room where they were waiting. They read the answer in her radiant face.
            “Lambs!”  She held out her arms to them.  “You did it!  Passed. Every single one of you.  And four of you in the first class.  And—can you believe it?  This places our school at the head of all the medical schools in the presidency!” …
            The next time she met Colonel Bryson, he shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Doctor,” he said sheepishly, “that your girls are setting too high a standard for our men to live up to.”
            Ida only smiled.

From  Dr. Ida, The inspiring story of Dr. Ida Scudder, fifty years a medical missionary in India bu Dorothy Clarke Wilson.

I’ve read a couple of Wilson’s other books–I’d like to own every one of them.

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

Chief Crowfoot earned the title "Chief" by his heroism and ability to negotiate in the white man's world.

I met Chief Crowfoot in 1997 when we camped with grandchildren in Montana and in Canada.  Of course I didn’t meet him in person, because he died in 1890, but I found his biography, and we have driven through the country where he lived.  After reading about Crowfoot, I feel as if I had met him.

“Several Blackfeet women and with a boy were picking saskatoon berries when a grizzly bear surprised them.  The women dropped their berry bags and ran.  The boy tried to fit an arrow into his bow, but the bear swatted the bow away and attacked the boy.  Men from the nearby camp jumped on their horses, shouted, and fired their guns into the air to scare the grizzly.  Crowfoot ordered warriors to the other side of the grove of trees where the bear was hiding.

“With the whole camp gathered at a safe distance, the [men] rode to the other side of the grove.  There, single riders went into the trees and tried to entice the grizzly toward them.  When at last the huge beast came into view, the men shouted to Crowfoot, who was waiting on the far side.  Quickly he guided his horse into the dense bushes and soon was behind the savage bear.  With deadly accuracy, he plunged a spear into the animal and, when his horse became too frightened, dismounted and continued to stab the bear until its lifeless body crashed to the ground…from that time on [Crowfoot] was recognized throughout the tribe as a prominent chief.”

Crowfoot led his people through tragic times in Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) history with dignity and honor.

“Crowfoot learned quickly which white men he could trust, and those men in turn trusted him.  Crowfoot foresaw the end of the buffalo, realized that his people could survive only with dramatic changes in their way of life, negotiated for supplies, tools, and food for his people, protested broken promises and fraudulent dealings.  He co-operated with the Mounted Police and Indian Department officials, not because he could preserve the Blackfeet way of life, but because it was the only way to help his people.

“Crowfoot expected justice from the whites and demanded it from his own people: he was willing to risk his life for it.”
Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet.  He died “beloved by his people, feared by his foes, esteemed by all.”

John Magee, John Denver, and High Flight

John Magee began composing the poem “High Flight” while flying a Spitfire 30,000 feet over England in 1941.   He finished it after landing and mailed it to his parents.

John Denver loved flying and was the son of a U.S. Air Force test pilot.  John Denver set John Magee’s poem to music.  Watch and listen on U-tube.  As a bonus, he’s chatting with Bob Hope during the introduction.  “High Flight” is also available, in several color and black-and-white versions, on U-tube.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940.  John had just turned 18. Hitler’s army was bombing England.  The United States wanted to stay out of the war, but some Americans thought it was time to join the fight against the Nazi onslaught.  John had a special reason to do that because of many happy times with his grandmother in England.

John’s story is well told, with illustrations, in the book High Flight by Linda Granfield.

The pilots needed in England were trained in Canada because German bombing made it almost impossible to practice there.  By the end of September, 1941, when John finished training in Canada and was shipped to England, the Battle of Britain had been won and English pilots were fighting the Germans in France.  John fought his first air battle near Dunkirk, France, in November.  

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.

On December 11, John was practicing wing formation flying in England.   As he descended through a layer of clouds, he collided with a plane below him and was killed instantly.

A few weeks before, he had sent the poem to his parents and a local newspaper published it.  It was published again after his death, with a lament for the fallen, and in his parents’ church bulletin.  Copies of the poem with John’s portrait and a drawing of his plane, a Spitfire, were sent to every airfield in the British Empire.

Over the next four years, while World War II dragged on, John’s poem gave war-weary civilians, soldiers and pilots, words that lifted their spirits, words that spoke of the glories of flight, not the ravages of war.  His words inspired hope and courage.

In 1944, Johns brother Christopher, a sixteen-year-old in the Combat Merchant Marine, stood on an oil tanker deck and heard actor Orson Welles’s voice on the loudspeaker:  “I now want to recite for you what I believe to be the finest poem to come out of this war…”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

You will find “High Flight” printed in air cadet handbooks.  Apollo 15 pilot James Irwin carried a copy to the moon.  It’s quoted on headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.  President Ronald Reagan quoted it after the death of seven astronauts on the Challenger.

What Terrorism Feels Like

How one girl stood up for education.

I am Malala, and this is my story…

Terrorism is fear all around you.  It is going to sleep at night and not knowing what horrors the next day will bring.  It is huddling with your family in the center-most room in your home because you have all decided it is the safest place to be.  It is walking down your own street and not knowing whom you can trust.  Terrorism is the fear that when your father walks out the door in the morning he won’t come back at night. ..

And since I had been in the kitchen both times there were [bomb] blasts near our house, I stayed as far from that room as possible.  But how can a person live when she is afraid of a room in her own home?  How can a mother buy food for her family if the market is a war zone?  How can children gather for a game of cricket if a bomb could go off under their feet?”

Malala was 15, in ninth grade, in 2012 when Taliban soldiers shot her in the head because she spoke out for the right of girls to go to school.

In December, 2014, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize for her stand against extremism and her coinntued fight for the right to education.

“On my eighteenth birthday, I returned to the Syrian border to open a school in Lebanon for refugee children and to demand that world leaders invest in books, not bullets.”

In her autobiography, Malala tells about her childhood, the international team that saved her life when she was shot, her long recovery, and her fight for education.

“It is people’s love and encouragement that gives me the energy to continue my fight.  I will never give up on advocating for peace and education for all.  I want to build schools and make sure there are qualified teachers in as many places as I can.  That is something else that hasn’t changed:  I am the same stubborn girl who will never give up.”

The Sugihara Story

I was five years old.

In 1940 my father was a diplomat, representing the country of Japan.  Our family lived in a small town in the small country called Lithuania…one early morning in late July, my life changed forever…

“There are a lot of people outside,” my mother said.  ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…They have come to ask for your father’s help…Unless we help, they may be killed or taken away by some bad men.”

My father said to my mother, “I have to do something.  I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t, I will be disobeying God.”

Back then, I did not fully understand what [my father] had done, or why it was so important.

I do now.

Hiroki Sugihara tells about the weeks when his father wrote permits for several thousand Jews to travel across Russia to Japan.  That was the only direction these people could go to escape from the Nazis who wanted to kill them.  If they could take a train all the way across Russia, and a ship to Japan, they could go on to other countries and live safely.

The Japanese government ordered Mr. Sugihara not to write the travel permits.  Mr. Sugihara knew he could be punished, but he wrote permit after permit, day after day, until he was sent away from Lithuania.

Hiroki Sugihara, who wrote Passage to Freedom, was that five-year-old boy.