Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

Freedman, Russell. 2004. THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION: MARIAN ANDERSON AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS. New York: Clarion. ISBN 0618159762 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


Reflecting on the Daughters of the American Revolution decision to deny Marian Anderson access to Constitutional Hall for a concert because of her race, Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “I regret extremely that Washington is to be deprived of hearing Marian Anderson, a great artist.” Roosevelt’s outrage over the treatment received by one of the nation’s most accomplished vocal performers is one of many reflections included in Russell Freedman’s outstanding and landmark work. By eloquently sharing her story, Freedman provides an opportunity for today’s generation to better understand how this American legend broke down racial barriers and came to serve as a champion for all people.

Freedman’s offering is a shining example of the very best nonfiction has to offer; he quickly whets the reader’s appetite for the narrative photo-biography in the opening pages by capturing the anticipation and excitement of the gathered crowd awaiting Anderson’s performance at her historic Easter concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. From here, he chronicles the life of Anderson, beginning with her childhood in Philadelphia, her dedication to her craft exhibited through rigorous training, her success as a performer world-wide, and her discomfort with being thrust into the role of activist. The strengths of Freedman’s work are many; using his signature style, the narrative quality of language flows and quickly draws readers into the events of Anderson’s life. Embedded black-and-white photographs include images such as her concert appearances while also focusing on the more personal aspects of her life. Throughout the volume, images of artifacts (such as concert programs) serve to offer readers both a personal connection to Anderson’s triumphant life and her struggle as well document her place in civil rights history.

Teens could write an “I Am” poem by analyzing information about her character from Freedman’s account. After completing the poem, they could research photos available on the web.

Other related works by Russell Freedman: ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A LIFE OF DISCOVERY. ISBN 0899198627
By Rose Brock

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