The scholarly work of Sara Butler, Professor of Art and Architectural History, on a 1942 portrait “An Incident in Contemporary American Life” by Mitchell Jamieson was featured in a March 31, 2017 Washington Post article by Desmond Herzfelder. The article, “The Nation’s First Civil Rights Monument Turns 75”, identifies the work’s importance and story of its making, as well as the circumstances regarding the event’s depicted.
Jamieson’s mural, located at the US Department of the Interior in Washington DC, portrays a racially integrated audience at the Lincoln Memorial concert given by singer Marian Anderson in April 1939, which was attended by more than 75,000 people and listened to by millions on the radio. The concert was given at this location two months after a concert scheduled for Anderson at Constitution Hall had been refused on racial grounds. Butler’s work and Herzfelder’s article document the remarkable event itself, collaborations which took place in the bringing the work to completion, as well as the integration of black and white Americans in the portrayed gathering. Butler noted that Eleanor Roosevelt had endorsed the commemoration of this event as a “key moment in the nation’s racial history and celebrated black protest.”
Anderson’s singing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 signaled the importance of this spot for civil rights in the US, which became the point from which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington in 1963.