Today, our featured Black Educator is Annie Bethel Scales Bannister.
Anne Spencer was born in 1882 in Virginia. At the age of 11, her mother enrolled her in the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (now Virginia University of Lynchburg). At age 17, she graduated at the top of her class. Two year later, she’d marry Edward Spencer, a fellow from school in Lynchburg who tutored her in math and science, and she tutored him in languages.
At the seminary, Anne majored in teaching at the Normal School. During the summers, she’d return to her hometown, Bramwell, WV, in the summers and teach. Spencer is also known for her literary career as a renowned poet. But, before her prolific writing career, she was a dope educator. Upon graduation, she returned to Bramwell and taught in Elkhorn and Mayberry, West Virginia. Spencer also served as the librarian at the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for more than twenty years, where she provided books from her own collection to the school for students to read.
She was adamant about not setting foot in any segregated buses. Spencer’s son said of her, “My mother was full of fire.”
The seeds of Spencer’s literary career were planted at the seminary. She really began to develop her talent after receiving positive feedback about her poetry from James Weldon Johnson, author of the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Johnson discovered Spencer’s poems while attending a gathering at Spencer’s home to discuss opening an NAACP branch in Lynchburg. Forty years old at this time, Spencer’s first published poem appeared in the Crisis Magazine in 1920.
Spencer would go on to be one of the more renowned writers/poets during the Harlem Renaissance. Her home was a magnet for Harlem Renaissance luminaries and other notable activists, as she hosted legends like W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, etc. Her work was featured in Alain Locke’s The New Negro.
Spencer’s poetry engages themes of religion, race, and nature. Thirty of her poems were published during her lifetime, in such anthologies as The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and Caroling Dusk (1927). She was the first African American woman poet to be featured in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973).
Dr. J. Lee Greene’s biography of Anne Spencer describes her undeterred eduactivism well:
For her outspoken provocations, Anne Spencer was subjected to ostracism, personal derision, racial slurs, and generally hostile attitudes during most of her adult life in Lynchburg. Yet she endured with strength, courage, and determination.
Spencer, a literary giant, used her gifts and passions to speak to the conditions of Black people and introduce Black people to the world of literature. Her contributions as a librarian and part-time teacher of literature and language at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the Black high school in Lynchburg, were tremendous.
Anne supplemented the school library’s scant collection (when she arrived, there were only three books in the school’s library) with books of her own collection and other sources. Spencer firmly believed in the power and impact of Black teachers on Black students. Her understanding of the needs of her students led her to champion a campaign to recruit and hire Black teachers to replace the school’s white faculty.
As educators, we must leverage our gifts and passions to introduce students to a world of lifelong learning whereby they can explore different areas so that they can make their mark on the world. Spencer’s life is an example of how. She is honored on a U.S. Postal stamp for her incredible work and impact.
Anne Spencer; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Anne Spencer, visit the following site.