Marian Anderson and her AKA Sorority Sisters (New Orleans-1940)


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[Names are listed from right to left.]

Back Row :(standing)  Hubbardine Daniels,  Bernice Allain,  Ethelyne Watts,  Evelyn Flemming,  Essie Moohn,  Zelda Belton,  Mildred Hall,  Edna Simmons,  Marian Anderson,  C.L. Speaker,  Lucille Hutton,  Lucille Tureaud,  Mercedes Green Davis,  M.D.Bowen,  Haleemon Shaik,  Marion Rieras,  Leah McKenna,  Dorothy Shane.

Second Row Florice Brazley,  Lois Neale,  Ruth Carter,  Iris Garrett,  Louise Bouise,  Vivian Dupart,  Rose Rieras,  Mary McCullum,  Mary Grace Harris.

Front Row: (seated)  Francis Wilson,  Cecilia Eugere,  Toleda Welch,  Rita Wilson,  Anna Dejoie,  Carmen Rogers,  Elaine Rieras,  Fay Rieras,  Jeanne Davis,  Daisy Blanchet,  Emma Davis and Jacqueline Shelton.

 Members not in the photo : Fannie C. Williams, Eleanore Thompson, Annette Montegut, Mae Rhodes, and Lois Faustina.  [Photo by A.P. Bedou]

The photo above was taken at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Kriege of St. Charles Avenue on Monday night, 06 May 1940, after the internationally acclaimed vocalist, Marian Anderson, held her much anticipated recital at the Municipal Auditorium. At the home she was entertained by her New Orleans Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters who regarded her as the world’s greatest singer.

Miss Anderson was made an honorary member of AKA by the national organization after an incident wherein the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall, a hall which the DAR owned. Daughters of the American Revolution had  a strict policy against allowing African-American entertainers on their stage. In response, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt withdrew her membership in the DAR and instead, invited Ms. Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This momentous event took place on Easter Sunday, 09 April 1939, before a crowd of 75,000 people.

Long before the arrival of Miss Anderson and Mrs. M.D. Bowen, whose house-guest she was, many admirers had gathered on the porch of the St. Charles Street mansion, lined the walks in the yard and along the sidewalk outside, while others waited in their cars.

At the door to greet the guests were: Edna E. Simmons, Evelyn Flemming, Carmen Rogers, and Mrs. Oscar Bouise. Mrs. George McKenna graciously introduced them to the members of the receiving line. In the line were: Mmes. C.L. Speaker, Margaret Davis Bowen, Mrs.Kriege, Misses Lois Neale, Fay Rieras and the guest of honor, Miss Anderson. All of the young soror members were attired in beautiful evening creations. Presiding at the punch bowl was Master A.P. Tureaud, assisted by Misses Jeanne Davis and Theresa Moon.

Incidentally, the colored ushers were the music students from Xavier and Dillard Universities, McDonogh #35, Gaudet, Gilbert Academy and Xavier Prep High Schools. Presenting flowers to Marian Anderson on the stage were Huston Dutton and Belmont Haydel.

 Many proclaimed this recital in New Orleans to have been the biggest and best thing to have occurred in the city in many years. Five thousand persons (of which 2,300 were people of color) thunderously applauded the queen of song as she majestically moved upon the stage and took her pose near the grand piano.

It was the artist’s 75th concert engagement of the year and, with the exception of the Metropolitan Opera performance, the recital was the greatest financial success in many years. Her diction, enunciation and pronunciation were gems of perfection as she sang songs in German, French, Finnish, Spanish and English. Her voice was said to have been velvety smooth, wide ranging, flexible and rich. The thunderous applause which greeted her closing number showed how completely she had won over her vast audience.

Marian Anderson’s appearance in New Orleans had not been without controversy. The white organizers of the concert had planned a whites-only event, but after vociferous protests from blacks, the Municipal Auditorium allocated seats for them only in the balcony. The NAACP protested that “horizontal” segregation of this kind was insulting to people of color and that only “vertical” segregation, whereby colored and whites sat on opposite sides of the hall but on the same level, would be acceptable.

When the Municipal Auditorium’s Commission rejected this demand, refusing to let blacks sit on the ground floor, the NAACP voted to boycott the concert. This proposed boycott split the black community. The sororities and fraternities wanted the concert to go ahead because they saw it as an opportunity for an internationally renowned black singer to perform in New Orleans. Even the Louisiana Weekly lashed out at the organization in print accusing its executive director, Roy Wilkins of “fighting to keep Negroes from hearing a great Negro artist.” The NAACP failed to persuade Ms. Anderson to cancel her appearance and failed to dissuade blacks from attending. They lost the fight and Anderson’s concert was held with Negroes sitting in the balcony. An event many would never forget.

Sources:   Photo (courtesy of Amistad Research Center, Tulane University); Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana 1915-1972 by: Fairclough, Adam (1995 –Univ. of Georgia); The Louisiana Weekly, 11 May 1940 p.1-2 and 3.

Lolita V. Cherrie

18 thoughts on “Marian Anderson and her AKA Sorority Sisters (New Orleans-1940)

  1. The posting of this historically profound photograph which depicts the Sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha of New Orleans, as they gather to receive and regale the famous contralto and AKA Soror Marian Anderson, is a marvelous idea. On Easter Sunday (April 9, 1939) Marian Anderson performed a concert at the Lincoln Memorial organized by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Daughters of The American Revolution refused her appearance in their DAR HALL because the audience was too racially integrated.. After this worldwide notoriety came to Miss Anderson, the Philadelphia native from a deeply religious family gained international star status. I saw her perform at the Central High School Auditorium in 1953 as a sixth grader in Mobile, Alabama… Marian Anderson February 27, 1897 – April 8,1993.

  2. Great history and information. Loved seeing my mother, Mrs. Lucille Dejoie Tureaud and my Aunt Anna Dejoie……never knew them as young beauties along with several of the other beautiful sorors that I knew as school teachers, family friends, people in our community or parents of friends and classmates of mine. What an experience that must have been to meet the renown. Ms. Marian Anderson!
    Keep up the good job! I look forward to each and every posting.

    (Soror) Elise Tureaud Nicholls

  3. I reviewed the 1963-1964 XAVIERITE and found some very nice photographs (4 PICS) of an event sponsored by Mr. George McKenna , Jr. who was then chairman of the XULA Dept. of Sociology. The event was to honor MS. MARIAN ANDERSON during the spring of 1964. The XULA Concert Choir performed Negro Spirituals for her and she was given a memorial plaque and flowers followed by an address from her. The Sisters of The Blessed Sacrement attended EN MASSE and accompanied her into the auditorium in the old Administration Bldg. This can be found on page 158 in Xavier’s yearbook, ‘The Xavierite”.

  4. What is very sad, is that Vivian Dupart kept secret her true identity from her extended family. To Which I take personal offense.

  5. You are correct, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority is a predominantly African American organization. The ladies pictured were all sorors in and from the New Orleans area. Anyone who has lived in, visited, or read about New Orleans would know that a large segment of its population has a very culturally and racially mixed background thus, it has large numbers of blacks who are phenotypically ‘white’ or ‘light.’ What the picture conveys to most thoughtful people is the beautiful bond of sisterhood that Miss Anderson and all of her AKA sorors forged through achievement, service, and struggle.

  6. I am thrilled to see a picture of my relatives Marion, Rose, Elaine and Faye. Aunt Rose is the only one I knew but am happy to see members of the Rieras family in a fabulous picture that I did not know existed. And thank you Jari, for your comments.

  7. As a daughter of Fay Rieras , niece of Marion Rieras and cousin of Rose and Elaine, it was a joy to see this photo of my relatives in the flower of their youth . As an AKA from the Boston Chapter,I am filled with pride that Marian Anderson was so honored. Interestingly, she lived in Connecticut where I am also a resident. Many, many thanks for publishing this photo and the accompanying article. What a valuable resource to peruse during Black History Month !

  8. Beautiful, historical picture. This is especially relevant to the families of these women for preserving their family history. Black history is so rich and diverse and should be celebrated.

  9. To: Jason Harley & MLove (comments from above)….
    Yes, the majority of these young women are light skinned and many could have passed for white if they had lived in other places outside of Louisiana. But what one must also remember is that these women lived and experienced the cruel world of growing up in the Jim Crow South. They attended black schools, black churches, set in the back of the bus, and even in the black section of the auditorium in the photo above. They did not hide who they were !! Most became teachers and taught in black schools. Their children attended black schools. I know, because many were classmates of mine. It didn’t matter how “light” you were. As long as you had any black blood, you were considered inferior by whites in this city and deprived of your basic rights as a citizen. I admire these women for their strength and courage. Let us not forget..many of our local Civil Rights fighters were members of these same families.

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