In 1963, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., President Lyndon Johnson awarded singer Marian Anderson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can give to a civilian (someone not in the military). He explained why this African American musician was being honored: “Artist and citizen, she has ennobled her race and her country, while her voice has enthralled the world.”
Twenty-four years earlier, however, some in Washington weren’t interested in honoring her but instead treated her unfairly. By then, she had given wonderful concerts of classical music in Europe and the United States, including at the White House. But in 1939, when a local university tried to have her perform at Constitution Hall, Washington’s concert hall, the managers of Constitution Hall wouldn’t let her, just because of the color of her skin.
Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, was upset by this example of discrimination against African Americans and arranged for Marian Anderson to perform that spring at the Lincoln Memorial. More than 75,000 people filled the area in front of the memorial to hear Marian Anderson sing. Thousands more around the country listened on radio to a live broadcast of the performance. She started by singing “America,” then sang some classical pieces, and ended with spirituals, including “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Newspapers and magazines wrote rave reviews, which let thousands more people learn about the dignified and courageous way she had triumphed over discrimination. Four years later, in 1943, she was at last invited to perform at Constitution Hall.
Did this end unfair treatment for this singer? Not exactly. In 1953, Marian Anderson was again denied permission to perform at a concert hall, this time by the Lyric Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. Luckily, this city’s music- and freedom-loving citizens came to her defense. Some wrote letters to newspapers complaining about “this insult to a great American singer.” Others threatened never to go to that concert hall again. Hundreds complained directly to the Lyric’s managers. Finally, Maryland’s commission on interracial relations persuaded the Lyric’s owners to let Marion Anderson perform there on January 8, 1954. The hall was filled to overflowing with her enthusiastic fans.
Ten years later, racial discrimination in concert halls finally became illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin at any place that serves the public, including concert halls, theaters, stadiums, restaurants, hotels, and anywhere else.
Source notes for this Minute may be found be clicking here.
Amy Nathan is the author of Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement, which tells about many little-known and yet important stories in civil rights history, including the story of Marian Anderson being the first African American to perform at Baltimore’s Lyric Theater in January 1954, and also the story about the merry-go-round that’s located not far from where Marian Anderson gave her famous 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Victory." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 27 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
What do the words on this list have in common?
Hint: They describe an amusement park attraction that goes round and round.
As you probably guessed, they’re names people have used for a ride you may call a merry-go-round or carousel. No matter their names, these rides have roots in the days of knights in shining armor.
Nearly a thousand years ago, European knights traveled to the Middle East to fight in the Crusades. They saw Turkish and Arabian fighters training in an unusual way: galloping on horseback in a circle while tossing balls to each other, to become more skilled horsemen. European knights named this a “carosella,” an old Spanish word for “little war.” When they returned home, they began having “carosella” contests as part of their tournaments. The French called these contests “carrousels.”
By the 1600s, carrousel contests changed to having knights use a long lance to spear a metal ring dangling from a tree or post overhead. In the late 1600s, some young French knights began using pretend carrousels to practice ring-spearing. Wooden horses or small chariots—arranged in a circle—were raised up in the air, attached by strong chains to wooden bars jutting out near the top of a tall pole in the center of the circle. Men on the ground (or a real horse) would pull the wooden horses so they would circle around the pole, as riders practiced spearing rings dangling from above.
By the 1700s, rides like this started being built just for fun, not as knight training. They became popular in Europe and really took off in the United States in the late 1800s when newly invented steam engines began powering them. These engines provided much more power than a worker or horse could. So bigger carousels with more wooden animals could be built. No longer suspended in midair, the animals were attached to round wooden platforms.
Most merry-go-rounds today are powered by electricity, not steam engines. Many carousel animals created now are made of aluminum or fiberglass, but some are still carved from wood. Of the more than 350 carousels operating in the U.S., more than 200 are old-time classics with wooden animals. A few carousels even let riders try to snag an overhead ring as they circle round and round.
Click here for a listing of carousels in the U.S. today.
Sources for this article may be found on the author's website
Amy Nathan is the author of Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round into the Civil Rights Movement, which tells the surprising civil rights history behind one of the classic wooden merry-go-rounds that still offer rides every day—the Carousel on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "Knight Time Fun." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 18 May 2018,
In the foreword to A Negro League Scrapbook, Buck O’Neil, former player/manager for the Kansas City Monarchs and the first black major league coach, says “Segregation was the only reason the Negro Leagues existed. Negro League baseball was outstanding.”
The players—most of whom never donned major league uniforms—were equal to, and sometimes better than, their white counterparts. Negro League and Major League players faced off in numerous exhibition games. Negro League teams usually won those contests, O’Neil explains, because the African-American players had something to prove.
From 1919 to 1963, Negro League teams crisscrossed the country, thrilling fans with crafty pitches, frequent bunts, hit-and-run plays, and stolen bases—all without big salaries or a level playing field.
Jackie Robinson, who began his career with the all-black Kansas City Monarchs, took the Negro League’s fast-paced brand of play with him to the Brooklyn Dodgers, stealing home during the 1955 World Series. Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947—a milestone that O’Neil considers the first pitch of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since 1971, more than twenty Negro League players have been inducted—some posthumously—into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Carole Boston Weatherford’s A Negro League Scrapbook recreates what life was like on and off the field for African American baseball players before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. With lively verse, fascinating facts, and archival photographs, this is a celebration of the Negro Leagues and the stellar athletes who went unrecognized in their time.
Norman Mineta was ten when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He was a carefree fourth grader in San Jose, California, who loved baseball, hot dogs, and Cub Scouts. But after the attack, school friends turned on him, calling him the enemy and yelling at him, “Dirty Jap! You bombed Pearl Harbor!”
“I looked like the enemy, so they assumed I was,” said Norm, whose parents had immigrated from Japan. “I burned with shame.”
The FBI arrested Japanese American leaders, imposed a curfew, and restricted travel. People’s businesses were padlocked and their homes searched. “When we learned about the internment camps, it was very frightening,” Norm said.
He and his parents, his older brother, and two of his three older sisters were taken by train to a camp near Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Heart Mountain housed 10,000 internees who lived behind barbed wire in 500 barracks. Their rooms had a single light bulb. No privacy, no closet, no running water.
The Mineta family endured these hardships with grace and dignity. Norm found solace in playing baseball and doing well in school. Late in 1944 the family was sent by the government to Chicago so Norm’s father could teach Japanese to American army officers. They lived in a regular house, but were not free to go home.
That finally happened when the war ended in 1945. They had been gone three long years. Gradually they resumed their former lives. After high school and college, Norm served in the army. He married, fathered two sons, and joined the family insurance business.
Then he was elected mayor of San Jose and later served twenty years in the House of Representatives. While in congress, he and other congressional members sponsored a bill requiring the government to give financial restitution to each living internee. More important, each would receive a letter of apology from the President of the United States.
After long and arduous work, the bill passed, becoming the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Japanese Americans had been exonerated. Only then could healing begin for one of the most egregious civil rights violations in American history.
Norm went on the serve in the cabinets of two presidents. Today this distinguished statesman works actively to tell the story of the interment and to ensure the civil rights of all Americans.
The song “We Shall Overcome” was an important part of the civil rights movement of the 1960's. It gave hope and courage to thousands of blacks and whites who protested peacefully against unfair treatment of African Americans. The song is easy to sing, but its words carry a powerful message. Here’s its main verse:
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day,
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome some day.
Often protestors faced hostile crowds, were arrested, or even beaten up when they took part in nonviolent demonstrations that called for all Americans—no matter their skin color—to have the same right to vote and be treated fairly in restaurants, stores, businesses, schools, buses, trains—and even amusement parks.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a main leader of the civil rights movement, urged demonstrators not to fight back, no matter how badly they were treated. This song helped them do that. Holding hands and joining their voices in “We Shall Overcome” during demonstrations—or in jail—helped them feel they weren’t alone and that despite the danger, their efforts would lead to a better America.
The protests did indeed lead to new laws being passed. The 1964 Civil Rights Law makes it illegal for any business that serves the public to discriminate against people because of race, religion, gender, or national origin. The 1965 Voting Rights Law outlaws rules that make it hard for blacks to vote.
News about these nonviolent protestors—and their song—spread around the world. Before long, people protesting for fair treatment in other countries began singing “We Shall Overcome” in their own languages. It has been sung by demonstrators in such varied countries as India, Czechoslovakia, Romania, China, and Britain.
While I was doing research for a book on civil rights, a man told me how the song helped him when he was surrounded by a hostile mob that hurled insults (and some rocks) during a 1963 demonstration at an amusement park that refused to let in blacks. When police arrived to arrest the protestors (not the stone thrower), the demonstrators held hands and sang the song as they walked through the mob to the police van. Their voices were shaky as they sang the verse “We are not afraid,” because they were very afraid, but the song gave them the courage to keep going.
Click here for source notes on this article.
Amy Nathan is the author of Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round into the Civil Rights Movement, which tells the tale of the nearly ten years of protests that were needed to finally end segregation at an amusement park, placing the story of the park—and its merry-go-round—within the context of the civil rights movement as a whole. For more information on the book, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "'We Shall Overcome': The Power of a Song." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 23 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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