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Houston Challenges Board over Marion Anderson: 1939 | by Washington Area Spark
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Houston Challenges Board over Marion Anderson: 1939

Charles Hamilton Houston (standing, right) argues before the Washington, D.C. school board March 1, 1939 that singer Marion Anderson should be permitted to sing at the Central High School auditorium after being banned from performing at the Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall.


Houston was Dean of the Howard University law school at the time and also served as chief counsel to the NAACP.


Days later, the school board offered to permit Anderson to sing, but “only on the positive and definite assurance and agreement…that the Board of Education will not in the future again be asked to depart from the principle of a dual system [of segregation] of schools and schools facilities.” The offer was refused.


Anderson ultimately sang at the open air Lincoln Memorial April 9 in front of tens of thousands while millions more listened on the radio. The concert became a form of mass civil rights protest that was unprecedented at that point in the 20th Century.


Houston continued to work on school desegregation and other Jim Crow practices in the District, notably taking on the Consolidated Parents Group cases that ultimately successfully ended school segregation in 1954.


Houston died in 1950 before seeing the fruits of his labor.


For more information and related photos on the desegregation of Washington, D.C. theaters and concert venues, see


For a longer history on efforts to integrate Washington, D.C. theater and concert venues, see


Read the story of of DC desegregation from the pickets to the courts:


Photographer is unknown, but is credited to Acme. An auction find.

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Taken on March 1, 1939