Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 1, 2013

JACKIE DAVIS: Recognizing the lives of extraordinary people

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — This week, as I reflected on the close of Black History Month, I was reminded that February 27 was the birthday of legendary African American contralto, Marian Anderson. She was born in 1897, and had a celebrated international career from 1925-1965. 

She was the first African American to ever perform with the Metropolitan Opera, and was instrumental in advancing the cause for racial equality in the United States during the 20th Century. This bit of Black History is especially significant to me, because I have the honor of portraying her this month, in a suite about “first lady” accomplishments, with one of Western New York’s repertory theater companies.

In 1939, when Marian Anderson was denied a performance in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, First Lady Eleanor and President Franklin Roosevelt arranged for her to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Over 75,000 people gathered to hear this classical singer, and millions listened by radio.

Ms. Anderson was originally refused admission into music school because of her race, but she did not let racism stop her dream. She studied with a number of vocal instructors, and toured all over Europe, where she did not experience the racism she had in America.

She once said, “When you stop having dreams and ideals — well, you might as well stop altogether.” She was actively involved in the civil rights movement, served as a good will ambassador, and received numerous honors and awards including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award before her death in 1993. 

None of these things would have been accomplished without her faith, tenacity, strength and determination.

Marian Anderson has a special place in our family history, because she and my grandmother, Maudelina Johnson, were dear friends, who at one time studied with the same voice teacher. Grandmother would take her voice students and her youth choir members to Ms. Anderson’s concerts. They always had the opportunity to speak with the extraordinary singer after her performances. Some of Grandmother’s voice students went on to become singers with the Metropolitan Opera because of the ground breaking accomplishments of Ms. Anderson.

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a portrayal of Mrs. Eliza Moselle, wife of Aaron Moselle, one of Lockport’s unsung heroes of black history. Ms. Brenda Reeves is a member of the Niagara County Historical Society “Step Back in Time Players.” She told the captivating story of how Moselle, a successful Black businessman, supplied the bricks for a school being built across the street from his home in 1868. 

When the school was completed in 1871, his 3 children were sent home and told they would have to attend the Negro school several miles away. Mr. Moselle fought for the rights of his children for five years, appealing to the Lockport School Board. Permission for the Moselle children was granted in 1876, thus integrating Lockport schools 80 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that desegregated American schools.

There is now an appeal before the Lockport School Board to acknowledge the role of Aaron Moselle, in civil rights and educational equality, by renaming the North Park school in honor of him. I sincerely hope this appeal is granted. I believe it is important to recognize the accomplishments of extraordinary people. Their lives inspire us to live better, dream deeper and reach higher life goals.

Jackie Davis is an Inspirational Vocalist, Musician and Speaker with over 20 years of TV broadcast experience. Her column appears on the first, third and fifth Friday of the month. You can contact her at jjd.22344@yahoo.com.