Annie Bannister Spencer

(February 6, 1882–July 27, 1975)

Anne Spencer (February 6, 1882–July 27, 1975) was born Annie Bethel Bannister in Henry County. Her father had been born enslaved and her parents, though separated, strove to make a better life for their daughter. After graduating from Virginia Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg) in 1899, she married fellow student Edward Spencer in 1901. They settled in Lynchburg, where their home became an epicenter for writers and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Although Spencer lived outside New York City, the center of the Harlem Renaissance, she was recognized as one of its members. Her activism against racial discrimination brought her into contact with James Weldon Johnson, a writer and field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who helped her establish an NAACP chapter in Lynchburg. While staying at her home, he discovered Spencer's poetry and arranged for the publication of her poem, "Before the Feast at Shushan," in The Crisis (February 1920). She later described meeting Johnson as "an act of God." During the course of the next decade almost twenty of her poems appeared in magazines and in anthologies of African American literature, including Weldon's work, The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922). An important-but-often-unheralded poet of the black literary movement of the 1920s, Anne Spencer was one of the few African Americans included in the influential Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973).