One common way for famous people in American history to be commemorated is to put their faces on postage stamps from the United States Postal Service. 2020 will see a unique and exciting new stamp series released, called “Voices of the Harlem Renaissance”, and one of the featured faces is Lynchburg’s very own Anne Spencer!
Who Is Anne Spencer?
Born in 1882 to parents who had formerly been slaves, Anne Spencer became a poet in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Her poems were internationally acclaimed and secured her spot as the second African American to be included in the Norton Anthology of Modern American and British Poetry, and the first ever African-American woman to receive that honor.
Born Anne Bannister, she lived in Lynchburg, enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (now the Virginia University of Lynchburg), graduated as valedictorian, married Charles Edward Spencer, and had three children (one of whom helped form the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII). She served as a librarian for Dunbar High School, often supplementing the book collections with her own so African American children would have access to them.
Spencer also made history in Lynchburg by helping found the local chapter of the NAACP, through which she fought for civil rights alongside prominent activists such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson. These leaders and many more, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Zora Neal Hurston, would stay at her home on Pierce Street whenever they visited Lynchburg, as segregation made finding lodgings difficult.
Celebrating Art and Civil Rights
The release of an Anne Spencer postage stamp is timely and fitting, as her husband Edward was also Lynchburg’s first African-American postman. He dedicated himself to helping her succeed in her writing. Their home on Pierce Street has since become a museum where anyone interested in Anne’s life and legacy can visit to learn more about this incredible woman.
The property includes the house they lived in, the garden she tended and her writing cottage. The house, where important guests often stayed with the family, has been faithfully recreated according to how Anne decorated it, and is available for touring. The garden often served as writing inspiration for her poetry; it’s open daily to the public without the need for a reservation so that visitors can tour and enjoy the greenery. The cottage, which Anne’s husband built for her based on her design, she called “Edankraal” (a combination of the first two letters of her and her husband’s names, and an Afrikaans word meaning “enclosure”), and it too has been faithfully restored. Tours of the grounds and museum may be planned two weeks in advance.
Spencer’s granddaughter Shaun Spencer-Hester, who is the curator and director of the Spencer House museum, was thrilled about her grandmother’s picture being put on a stamp, saying, “It’s very flattering to know there’s people all over the country who would be interested in seeing her image.” Other faces on the “Voices of the Harlem Renaissance” stamp series will include novelist Nella Larsen, historian Arturo Schomburg and writer and educator Alain Locke.