My First Black History Lesson

I learned about MArian Anderson

It was my second grade class in 1976 and we learned about this remarkable opera singer who fought racial prejudice to sing opera and Carnegie Hall and then for President FDR at the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t have a lot of memories of my school years from when I was 7 years old, but I do remember some of this. Mostly I remember coming home with my lesson paper to show my mother and her smile after looking at it, and that she made a phone call and told me afterwards that we were going to Connecticut that coming weekend to go visit the Fishers. And I remember being very confused until she sat me down to explain.

Mrs. Fisher is Marian Anderson.

Yes, she autographed my schoolwork and my mother saved it.

My mother was friends with this older couple that had a farm in Connecticut and their name was Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. I don’t know how she was friends with them, how she’d met them, but we’d been to visit a few times and I liked to play with the animals. It was a working farm (I think it was a cattle ranch, actually), in Danbury Ct. So when I learned that Mrs. Fisher and Marian Anderson was the same person, I was really surprised! I enjoyed learning, and I enjoyed music, as I was already studying ballet and my whole family was musical but the impact of what she’d done wouldn’t hit me until I was much older. I was a mere child, and she was an old lady. I just wanted to play on the farm, not listen to the grown-ups talk. That is, until the one time, the ONE TIME she treated us to a living room performance after lunch. I was probably one of the few lucky people to get a “command performance” from a living legend, and I didn’t even know it. She sang Ave Maria. To this day, when I hear that aria, I think back to that living room– and the blues and golds of her wallpaper, and her table after lunch, with the dishes still not cleared yet. Her voice bounced off the walls and the dishes and everything rang a bit from the power behind it. I remember that *feeling*.

I’m 52 now, and today is the last day of Black History Month. I don’t need to write about WHO Marian Anderson is. There’s plenty of information on who she was as a performer, or as a role model or even as historical figure. I am writing this not just as a tribute to a person who was part of the struggle to gain equal recognition during the early half of the 20th century but also as someone who was important to my mother, although I don’t remember how or why. I only know that Mrs. Fisher, as I knew her, was a friendly lady with a big voice — and a bunch of chickens that ran around her front yard. And she let me ride her pony sometimes. And I learned about her when I was 7 years old in the 1970s, at a time when black history wasn’t often taught in schools, particularly in the first and second grades (my first and second grade classes were mixed together.)