February 5, 1945

This time of year in 1945 America and Tacoma were still at war but on a Monday night, February 5th the Temple theater was crowded for a concert by contralto Marian Anderson. At an unforgettable point in the program she departed from the largely operatic repertoire to sing-without introduction or comment- “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. Everyone in the room knew the meaning of the patriotic song. They knew that the black singer had been denied the stage at Constitution Hall in 1939 for a concert before an integrated audience. And they also knew that Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in to arrange for the concert to be performed on the steps of the Lincoln Monument. 75,000 people showed up to hear her sing- 24 years before Martin Luther King Jr’s dream speech given literally in her footsteps. When she sang “My Country,’Tis of Thee” America changed.

Just four years before Anderson’s Tacoma concert, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Mayor Harry Cain at Tacoma’s City Hall. She used her strong voice to side with him against the removal of Japanese citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Cain was alone as the only west coast Mayor to do so.

That night soldier Cain was at war in Europe and Eleanor Roosevelt was somewhere else in America but the meaning of that song had a very local echo. Here it is from Easter Sunday 1939:

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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