Apr. 9, 1998

Mother Love

by Julia Kasdorf


Today's Reading: "Mother Love" by Julia Kasdorf from EVE'S STRIPTEASE, published by University of Pittsburgh Press (1998).

It's MAUNDY THURSDAY, the Thursday before Easter. It gets its name from the Latin words, "mandate novum," which means "a new commandment."

It was on this day in 1939 that contralto MARION ANDERSON gave a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It was Easter Sunday and 75,000 came to the mall to listen to the woman from Philadelphia sing. Millions more tuned in on the radio. She'd spent the previous years in Europe where she won raves in all the music capitals, but when she came back to her hometown and wanted to give a recital at Independence Hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution rejected her because she was black. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R., and offered Anderson the Lincoln Memorial as a substitute venue.

PAUL ROBESON was born 100 years ago today in Princeton, New Jersey. He was admitted to the New York bar, but decided to go into theater instead. The playwright Eugene O'Neill saw him in a production and offered him a part in his play, The Emperor Jones, which made Robeson famous on Broadway. He started to sing, too, without ever having taken a voice lesson, and landed big parts in Show Boat, and Porgy and Bess. He gave concert tours in Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, and in the era of McCarthyism made waves by declaring the Soviet Union a superior country to the U.S. because of its treatment of blacks. In 1950 the federal government denied him a passport because he refused to sign an affidavit stating whether he was a member of the Communist Party.

The CIVIL WAR ENDED on this day in 1865. At 1:30 in the afternoon, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, rode in full military dress-greys to the house of Wilmer McLean at the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and met General Ulysses S. Grant, commander-in-chief of the Union Army. Their meeting lasted only a few minutes and neither man spoke much. Grant had insisted on unconditional surrender and wrote the terms himself, but in the end they were considered extremely generous: Confederate soldiers were permitted to keep their horses and go free to their homes, and Confederate officers were allowed to keep their swords and even their sidearms. Most of Lee's army at that point had deserted, and he was down to only 9,000 men.

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