black voices silenced


Marian Anderson was a critically-acclaimed singer in the mid-1900's in both the United States and overseas. With her popularity growing, Anderson attempted to perform in concert at the Constitution Hall in Washington, DC in 1939. However, the Daughters of the American Federation—who owned the Hall—refused to allow the concert to take place because of Anderson's race. With the help of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson instead performed outdoors on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of 75,000 in what has been referred to as one of the most famous concerts in the history of the U.S.

To read more about about Marian Anderson, please visit Marian Anderson: A Life In Song from the University of Pennsylvania Library. (Includes an audio file of Anderson singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" from her 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert)

In Florida (and also Alabama and Tennessee), law enforcement officials targeted stores that sold 2 Live Crew's album "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" after a federal judge declared it obscene?the first time obscenity law was ever used in relation to a sound recording. The decision was later overturned by an appeals court in 1992. The members of 2 Live Crew were also arrested in Hollywood, Florida for performing the album live at an adults-only show but were later acquitted.

Other African-American rap & hip-hop artists have also been targeted.

In 1989, a group called N.W.A. (featuring Ice Cube and Dr. Dre among others) released its album "Straight Outta Compton," an album widely credited with ushering in the "gangsta rap" era. One of the tracks on the album was titled "F**k tha Police." In response to N.W.A. and the song, police around the country heavily criticized the group and tried to put a stop to their 1989 national tour. Protestors' efforts resulted in shows being canceled in several cities including Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington DC. The FBI also weighed in, sending a strongly-worded letter to N.W.A.'s record label making it perhaps the first and only time the FBI has taken such a position.

In 1992, rapper Ice-T released a quasi-heavy metal album with his side band Body Count. The album featured a song called "Cop Killer" which created a storm of controversy including many vocal protests by police and law enforcement activists. The criticism eventually led to Time-Warner, parent company of Body Count's label, Sire Records, removing the track in later pressings of the album.

In 2002, Sarah Jones sued the FCC after it declared her song, "Your Revolution" indecent and fined a radio station in Portland, Oregon for playing it on the radio. Ironically, the song is meant as a protest against the treatment of women in popular hip-hop songs and uses much of the same language from the songs that she is targeting. For more on Sarah Jones, click here.