Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mother Annie had worked as a school teacher before in another state. However, because she was in Philadelphia without a full teaching degree and, more importantly, being African-American, she was not able to teach. Annie therefore earned an income by caring for children. Marian’s father, John, sold coal and ice, eventually opening a small liquor business despite not being a drinker himself.
The family was very active in the local Union Baptist Church. Mary, Marian’s aunt, noticed her niece’s vocal talent and encouraged her to join the church choir at the age of six. Marian performed solos and duets at church, and also at the YMCA and other community music events where she would wow the audience.
At the age of 12, Marian’s father died from an accident at work, so the family moved in with John’s parents. Despite being unable to afford to attend high school or receive vocal lessons, Marian continued to perform and to learn from anyone she could. Eventually, the directors of the People’s Chorus, the pastor and other leaders came together to generate funds for Marian’s high school education and music tuition. Upon graduating from high school, Marian applied to the Philadelphia Music Academy but was rejected because she was black. And to emphasise the point, Admissions declared, “We don’t take coloureds.”
In 1925, Marian gained some publicity when she won a singing competition in New York. As a result, she performed a number of times with the Philharmonic orchestra. However racial prejudice continued to plague her. She decided to move to Europe, where she received further tuition until 1934 when Sol Hurok became her manager and encouraged her to return to America. By the late 1930s, Marian was giving 70 recitals a year. Despite her growing public following, she was still denied access to hotels and some restaurants because she was black.
In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to grant Marian permission to sing to both black and white patrons. Washington was a segregated city at that time and the DAR had a policy of refusing black artists and forcing black Americans to sit at the back of the hall. As a result of the outrage created by this rejection, many members of the DAR resigned, including then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. With the support of the Roosevelts, Walter White and Sol Hurok, an open air concert was arranged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Performed on Easter Sunday, the event attracted more than 75,000 people of all shades. Many millions more listened to the concert live on radio.
Marian Anderson was born into a world of bigotry and hate. She endured prejudice simply because of the colour of her skin. Many people closed their ears to her gifted voice and rejected the blessing they might have received if it weren’t for their racist bias.
a different Marian
John, in his Gospel, told a similar story. The subject of his story “became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14, NLT).* Yet He had already existed because He was “with God, and [He] was God” (verse 1). John does not mince words here. He wants his readers to have no doubt in their minds about who this Person was and is-God. John explains best, though it can still be hard to get a handle around what he meant. For before this Person became human and lived among us, “God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (verse 3). Somehow, this Person created a universe, a solar system, a planet that could support life, vegetation, living creatures and human beings before He was “born.” He “gave life to everything that was created” (verse 4).
Unlike His created creatures, which require eco-systems and external resources to sustain life, this Person was and is the source of life. John says that this source of life is like a light that “brought light to everyone” and “shines in the darkness” (verses 4, 5). Everyone who has ever lived has received their life from this Person. Therefore, we are all dependent upon Him for the life force, the spark, the breath of life that brought us into existence and we are dependent upon Him for the continuation of or the sustaining of that life.
John the Baptist was chosen by God to announce the coming of this Person, this Life, this Light (verse 9). Immediately, the first question that enters my mind as I read the introduction to the Gospel of John, is Why? Why would this Person choose to enter the world He had created? John provides the reader with clues along the way, but like all good crime novelists, he keeps the reader in suspense to the very end. Once the end is known, however, one might wonder how they had missed the clues that now jump right off the page.
Like Marian, this Person was special. And like Marian, He was rejected by most people. It seems so strange that the Creator could be rejected by the creatures He created. Yet John tells how “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognise him” (verse 10). But it gets worse than that. At least Marian was accepted by her own American black people. But John says that “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (verse 11). So the people whose lives were dependent upon this Person, who “have all received one gracious blessing after another” (verse 16) from Him, rejected the Lifegiver. And yet He did not respond in kind for “He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (verse 14).
So who is He? Who is this Person John spoke about? God had said to John the Baptist, “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit” (verse 33). And John the Baptist later affirmed, “I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God” (verse 34). And John leaves the reader in no doubt just who Jesus is when he said the Son of God was “himself God” (verse 18).
So why did Jesus, the Son of God, choose to come to this earth? The reason is two-fold. First, the Son of God came to “reveal God to us” (verse 18). The only one who can reveal God the Father to His creatures with any authority is God the Son, the One who was “with God” and who “was God” (verse 1). Until the coming of “the Son”, God had been revealed “to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2).
Every action and every word that the Son did on earth gives us insight into the mind and heart of the Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So if you really want to answer the question, “What is God like?” read the Gospel of John and see how the Son interacted with humanity. Through the Son, you will see the Father.
The second reason why the Son came to earth is also found at the beginning of John’s Gospel. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). “My purpose” Jesus said, “is to give [people] a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). Jesus was referring to life now, and a new life in the life to come.
There are numerous hints in John’s Gospel that tell us how we can obtain this fullness of life. In one example, John records Jesus telling a cryptic parable, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels-a plentiful harvest of new lives” (John 12:24). In order for the Son to take away the sin of the world, to reveal the love of the Father, to bring life to a dying world, His life had to be forfeited. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The verb “gave” is in direct reference to the cross. Thus it could be translated, “the Son gave his life-the Son died-for His love for His creatures and to give them an opportunity for a new life.”
Those who rejected Marian Anderson missed an opportunity to hear, as the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini said, a voice “heard once in a hundred years.” Some who had first rejected her later accepted her. But many, still motivated by racial prejudice, never received the blessing from hearing her voice. On the other hand, those who reject Jesus, God’s Son, will miss an opportunity far greater than hearing the voice of a beautiful vocalist. Those who reject the Son will miss the opportunity of obtaining a full life now-and a life eternal.