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: