The only child of Joel Cephus Bannister and Sarah Louise Scales, Anne Spencer was born Annie Bethel Bannister in Henry County, Virginia on February 6, 1882. Her parents separated while Annie was very young, and she moved with her mother to West Virginia, where she was placed under the care of William T. Dixie, a prominent member of the black community. Sarah noticed her daughter’s quick abilities with the English language and sent her to the Virginia Seminary, where she graduated in 1899.
Also in 1899, she met her husband, Charles Edward Spencer, whom she married on May 15, 1901. The celebrated Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson helped to discover Annie’s talent as a poet, and also gave her the pen name of Anne Spencer.
From 1903 until her death in 1975, Anne Spencer lived and worked in a home at 1313 Pierce Street in Lynchburg, VA. As an adult, Anne’s poetry grew in popularity and meaning. The Harlem Renaissance allowed her to meet people like herself, who inspired her poetry through their ideas and artwork and eventually led to her work being published. James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. Du Bois were regular visitors at her house and would often spend the day in deep conversation discussing everything from art to politics. They all shared similar likes and dislikes and were all strong, independent thinkers.
Anne was the first Virginian and first African-American to have her poetry included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. After its 1923 publication in the Crisis, her poem “White Things” was never reprinted during her lifetime. Nevertheless, its impact was such that Keith Clark, in Notable Black American Women, referred to it as “the quintessential `protest’ poem.”
Anne was deeply involved in her local community and the NAACP, founding the local branch of the organization in her home. Through her commitment to equality and educational opportunities for all, she hosted such dignitaries as Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Aside from her involvement in her community, Anne’s most important role was that of mother. Together, she and Edward lovingly raised their three children — Bethel, Alroy, and Chauncey Spencer.
Following her death in July 1975, Anne Spencer’s home and garden were opened to the public as a Virginia Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places – http://www.annespencermuseum.com/.
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