Smithsonian fashion historian Renee Anderson said the outfit represents a forward sense of fashion after the singer had made a name for herself in Europe. Now it offers a look at how she carried herself, curators said.
"She was very elegant. She was very steadfast, making a statement: 'Here I am. I do matter. What I do and what I say is important,'" Renee Anderson said.
Anderson didn't talk much about the famous concert. "I'm not a fighter," she would say. She had been thrust into the spotlight but didn't see herself as an advocate.
"The only desire she had at the time was to sing," DePreist said. "She wanted to be recognized for her voice, her career — and not necessarily that page of history."
That day became national news, though, after Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution in protest for keeping Anderson out.
Anderson would become the first African-American to perform at the White House and sang there again when the Roosevelts entertained the king and queen of England. After years of being shut out of opera, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955.
When the new black history museum opens, likely in 2016, Anderson will be part of an exhibit about music.
"Because of that concert, she's forever etched in history," Reece said. "In excelling at her own craft, she stands as an example in many ways showing African-Americans performing all types of music, performing an event that was tinged with social justice as its primary tenant."
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