In the late 1930s, Anderson gave about 70 recitals a year in the United States. Although by now quite famous, her stature did not completely end the prejudice she confronted as a young black singer touring the United States. She was still denied rooms in certain American hotels and was not allowed to eat in certain American restaurants.
In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington, D.C., was a segregated city and black patrons were upset that they had to sit at the back of Constitution Hall. The District of Columbia Board of Education also declined a request to use the auditorium of a white public high school. As a result of the ensuing furor, thousands of DAR members, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned.
The Roosevelts, with Walter White, then-executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Anderson's manager, impresario Sol Hurok, then persuaded Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes to arrange an open air Marian Anderson concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The concert was performed on Easter Sunday, April 9, and Anderson was accompanied, per usual, by Vehanen. They began the performance with a dignified and stirring rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee". The event attracted a crowd of more than 75,000 of all colors and was a sensation with a national radio audience of millions.