On the penultimate day of Black History Month, I participated in a Black History Month Celebration at my church, St. Michael-St. Malachy. I was asked to recite a poem. A number of youth were present at the celebration, and even though poetry should not be explained, but experienced, I provided a little context for the following poem, dedicated to Marian Anderson, the great Black Opera Singer.
If timing is everything, I chose this poem over something from my first book, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present, simply because I thought it would resonate more with the audience. It just so happened that Marian Anderson was born on this day, February 27th, in 1897.
I confess that I’m not a lover of opera, but I have listened to it. My High School Music Teacher at Alexander Hamilton High School, now Paul Robeson High School, Mr. R., a Black male, introduced us to opera. He said, even if we didn’t like it, we would have had at least experienced it. He would mix it up though, give us some James Brown and Beethoven, Marvin Gaye and Mozart, Sarah Vaughan and Vivaldi. At 14 years of age, I had already watched Porgy and Bess, my only claim to having experienced an Opera.
My Lord, What a Morning, is a “Negro Spiritual.” Sometimes Anderson is credited with writing it, but she wasn’t the writer, but a great interpreter of it, and of the Spirituals. This song though must’ve had great significance for Anderson because it’s the title of her autobiography.
I briefly told the audience a little Marian Anderson history, that she was famous in Europe before her 1935 debut in the States. She was a contralto. She had a three-octave range. The famous conductor, Arturo Toscanini, said that Marian had “a voice one hears once in a hundred years.”
The racism of some Americans didn’t want to hear Marian’s voice. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a member of the DAR, resigned from it, something that endeared me to FDR’s wife. Instead of singing at Constitution Hall, on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the Lincoln Memorial steps, Marian sang before an integrated audience (which included the President and First Lady, who made this event happen) of more than 75,000 people, and a radio audience in the millions.
So, it is only appropriate that this poem bears the same name as the spiritual and Anderson’s autobiography
My Lord, What a Morning
I am Black and proud,
O Daughters of the American Revolution,
Like the soil of Creation,
Like the land of Mother Africa.
Do not look at me with contempt because I am Black.
Your mythology says I am sun‑burnt,
That my forefathers were cursed.
My forebears sold my ancestors into slavery,
Made generations toilers of the land;
But the land I made great rejected me
When I came up from slavery.
You found other ways to keep me down,
Would not allow me to sing my song
In this land that is mine as well as yours.
My forefathers fought in the American Revolution,
My foremothers supported the Civil War,
My father fought to make the world safe for democracy,
My brother would fight to end all wars.
How dare you not allow me to sing my song!
I will lift my voice and sing,
I will sing a song of sweet liberty,
I will sing so loud the earth will be torn asunder,
I will sing so loud those war dead will rise.
Listen, and hear the angels weep,
Listen, the temple’s curtains have been rent,
Listen, and know that God speaks through me.
Hear my voice, O Daughters of the American Revolution,
Hear my voice and eat your hearts out!
— The Black Feminine Mystique