In 1910, the Howard Theatre opened as “The Theatre for the People”. Throughout it’s years, it was known to be one of the major venues for black artists. Beset by money problems in a D.C. neighborhood plagued by crime after the riots from the 1960s, it was forced to close in 1980.
After 32 years and a $29 million renovation, the historic landmark in the District of Columbia’s Shaw neighborhood is preparing for an audience as it reopens its doors once more.
On Thursday, a grand opening gala concert will honor Howard Theatre’s past and future with performances from Smokey Robinson and Wanda Sykes. Motown Records founder and producer Berry Gordy will be in attendance as the Howard Theatre begins in a new era functioning as a performing arts hub.
Take a look at the video above which documents the history of the theatre which is located down the hill from Howard University on T Street NW near 7th Street and Florida Avenue.
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On February 26, 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt fired off a letter to Mrs. Henry Martyn Robert Jr., the President General of the DAR. Mrs. Roosevelt was resigning from the organization as a result of their refusal to permit Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, a concert hall owned and operated by the DAR.
One of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century, Marian Anderson was an African-American contralto. Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, nine months after the U.S. Supreme court handed down its’ separate but equal ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.
The National Society of DAR The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a lineage-based membership organization for women who are descended from a person involved in United States’ independence. It was incorporated by a congressional charter in the same year as the Plessy decision.
In response to the First Lady’ letter of resignation, Sarah Corbin Robert wrote “I am indeed sorry not to have been in Washington at this time. Perhaps I might have been able to remove some of the misunderstanding and to have presented to you personally the attitude of the Society”.
That attitude of the Society was now the law of the land thanks to the Plessy decision. How ever that attitude was not embraced by Robert’s father in law General Henry Martyn Robert Sr. General Robert, the author of Robert Rules of Parlimentary Procedure was born and raised in Robertville, S.C. a place he left because he despised slavery. It was probably not embraced by Clement Corbin, Mrs. Robert’ great great grandfather who fought with the Connecticut Rangers in the Revolutionary War in Rhode Island. Clement Corbin fought along with such black men as Lot Little, who was a slave.
And it certainly was not the attitude of Eunice Davis. A known Abolitionist who worked with William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator, Davis was the daughter of a revolutionary war hero by the name of Prince Ames. Ames who was married to Eunice Russ a Narragansett Indian was the son of a white father and Narragansett Indian mother.
The Narragansett Indians were known as a tribe of diverse cultures which also included Africans. The tribe had a vision of themselves as “a nation rather than a race”, and it was a multiracial nation. Therefore the y did not frown on what has been termed as interracial or mixed marriages, which of course was illegal I this country until the U.S. Supreme ruled the unconstitutionality of such local laws in the historic case known as Loving v. Virginia.
Eunice Davis first marriage was to a white man. That marriage ended after his death. Together they had three children. Eunice whose second husband was black became a member of the DAR in 1896 at the age of 96.
As a result of the DAR’s refusal, Marian Anderson went on to give her Concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. On April 9, 1939 at the invitation of Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes. Ms. Anderson sang before an integrated crowd of 75,000. That audience included Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, and New York Senator Robert Wagoner The concert was also broadcasted over the radio to millions.
This Easter marks 73 years since the Marian Anderson Lincoln Memorial concert. In these 73 years the Daughters of The American Revolution has made a lot of progressive changes. In 1943 they welcomed Marian Anderson to Constitution Hall for a benefit concert for war relief. In 1964, Ms. Anderson chose the Hall as the launching pad of her American farewell tour.
The DAR changed their policy in regards to Constitution Hall in 1957, three years after Brown v. Board of Education overruled Plessy. However, they did not accept their first acknowledged black member a until 1977.
Karen Batchelor also known as Karen Farmer sat down at the Lunch Counter with Febone1960.net. Karen is that first acknowledged black member invited and accepted into the DAR after the unfortunate Marian Anderson incident.
Also sitting with us at the lunch counter is Kim Harrison, a descendant of Lot Little. Lot Little was, a slave who fought at the Battle of Saratoga. Both women described their journey leading them to the DAR. They also discussed the surprising revelations of that journey.
Take listen to their interview by viewing the video above. Febone1960.net think you will find this interview very revealing with respect to race.
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