Danbury NAACP pushes for permanent Marian Anderson memorial

DANBURY – This Sunday, the mayor will officially celebrate a mural on Main Street depicting Marian Anderson, world-renowned singer and civil rights icon who called Danbury home in 1940.

But some community leaders say the mural alone isn’t enough to honor Anderson.

Glenda Armstrong, president of the Danbury NAACP chapter, highlighted Anderson’s lasting legacy and said the organization she leads does not dispute the “artistic merit” of the mural. But she pointed to the artwork’s location on Main Street, surrounded by billboards and businesses, and called on city leaders to find a more permanent solution in honor of the former resident of Danbury.

“It’s a city that celebrates it and should be able to do something a little more permanent that can’t be removed with a gallon of paint,” Armstrong said. “She just deserves something bigger, like the Hatters statue in front of city hall or something, even the 9/11 statue, which is in a very permanent place that isn’t cluttered with commercialism.

Mayor Dean Esposito said Friday he looked forward to the mural ceremony on Sunday, adding that he would support a collaborative effort to plan a lasting monument for Marian Anderson and others.

According to the mayor’s spokesperson, there is a permanent memorial, located inside Wooster Cemetery, which honors the city’s black veterans.

“In the meantime, I invite our nonprofit and faith-based community to work together to devise a plan to honor not only Marian Anderson, but other African Americans and Danburians of all races and backgrounds who have helped make Danbury one of the best places to live, work and raise a family,” the mayor said in his statement.

Luana Barcelos is the artist who painted the mural. In June, the Danbury native told CT Insider why she was inspired by Anderson.

“I grew up in Danbury and anyone who grows up in Danbury knows what Marian Anderson means to our city,” said Barcelos, who graduated from the University of Connecticut in May. “The main theme of my mural is to show who she was for Danbury and what her great achievements were.”

In 1955 Anderson became the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Fifteen years prior, she moved to Danbury with her husband, an architect named Orpheus Fisher, and the couple took up residence on a 100-acre property on Joe’s Hill Road after learning they would need to buy more land. than they originally requested. to keep them away from their white neighbours.

A year before moving to Danbury, Anderson became an icon of the civil rights movement after her groundbreaking Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of an audience of around 75,000. The concert took place after she was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. because the owners of the building had inserted a “white performer only” clause in their rental agreement.

The property’s singer’s studio building was saved from destruction in 1999 and moved to the site of the Danbury Museum and Historical Society.

For Armstrong, Anderson’s legacy and relationship to the city doesn’t match the temporary nature and setting of the mural that honors her, a theme, she noted, that “goes hand in hand.” with a recent decision by Western Connecticut State University to suspend a years-long effort to name the university’s School of Visual and Performing Arts after the famous Danbury resident.

“My position and the community’s position is that the process must continue,” Armstrong said. “If the committee was working and moving forward, that shouldn’t stop this committee from working.”

“What else should we do here?” Who is more suitable than her? she added.

Paul Steinmetz, spokesperson for WestConn, said four years ago the university set up a committee made up of people, including himself, from the university and the community with the aim of developing a campaign who would raise funds to name the Arts Building and, or, the School of Visual and Performing Arts after Anderson.

“We haven’t raised any money,” Steinmetz said of the committee’s work, adding that the decision to put the effort “on hold” came with the arrival of the university’s acting president, Paul Bern.

The state university system hired Beran this year to address issues identified in a January report that found the public university is facing “serious financial difficulties” after the pandemic “wiped out” college funds. reserve of the institution.

“We are evaluating what we are going to do,” the university spokesperson said on Friday.

Armstrong said the Danbury NAACP plans to schedule meetings with the mayor and the university in the coming weeks in hopes of finding a more permanent way to honor Anderson.

“She chose to live in Danbury,” Armstrong said. “And we should be honored to say that.”

Corina C. Butler