Anne Bethel Spencer - House and Garden
1313 Pierce Street
"Once the world was young
For I was twenty and very old
And you and I knew all the answers
What the day was,
how the hours would turn
One dial was there to see
Now the world is old
and I am still young
For the young knows nothing, nothing."
-Anne Bethel Spencer 1882-1975
If a visionary midwife had told Anne Spencer's mother that the newborn infant she held in her arms on February 6, 1882 would one day write the lines that appear on the front of this brochure, she would have registered little surprise. Anne's mother expected her daughter to be exceptional, and she reared her accordingly.
Thus in 1893 Anne found herself en route to Lynchburg, Virginia, where she entered the city's first and oldest institution of higher learning: Virginia Theological Seminary and College. At the Seminary she completed her high school education and continued her studies there through college, giving the valedictory address at her graduation.
There she also met Edward A. Spencer, a fellow student and natural entrepreneur who had an eye for brains as well as beauty. Edward used their co-operative tutoring sessions as an occasion to court this gifted young woman. Anne and Edward had two daughters, Bethel and Alroy, and later a son, Chauncey, the only one of their children born in their new Pierce Street home. Edward built 1313 Pierce Street in 1903. Shortly thereafter he erected a smaller house in the back garden. Combining their first names (Ed and Anne) in a pun on "Eden" and grafting his pun and the South African term Kraal or dwelling, he called it Edankraal. For the balance of her life, which did not end until 1975, Anne Spencer made Edankraal her sanctuary. Spending her days as the librarian of a segregated black school, she retreated at day's end to the solitude of her garden, where she drew inspiration for the poems that would establish and secure her reputation as a thinker and writer of national significance.
More self-contained than either bookish or reclusive, Anne Spencer did not avoid company; indeed, she kept more than a little because she regularly extended her hospitality to friends, neighbors, and visitors ranging from George Washington Carver to Martin Luther King Jr; from Mary McLeod Bethune to W. E. B. DuBois; from Adam Clayton Powell to Thurgood Marshall. Her incisive wit, intellectual toughness, and artistic determination secured her a place in a coterie of writers, thinkers, and artists whose collective energy informed the Harlem Renaissance and charted a new course in American belles-lettres. Hers is a remarkable story.
But the story does not belong solely to Anne Spencer. That the Spencers had, a generation earlier, sufficient sense of community to erect a neighborhood assembly hall as a place where friends and neighbors might gather for meetings, recreation, and entertainment says much about the ethos underpinning the family; that they, after the Civil War, converted that assembly hall to provide living space for more than twenty newly emancipated slaves says even more.
By the turn of the century the Spencer family had agreed to sell the old hall to a Baptist congregation moving to Lynchburg from the country, but before doing so, they had added several apartments to their nearby store, specifically to accommodate the hall's three remaining residents.
In that kind of atmosphere, Anne's openness and hospitality seem inevitable inclinations, to say nothing whatever of her inclination to reach beyond the limitations imposed by custom or circumstance. Similar generosity and independence are evident in Anne and Edward Spencer's children, the youngest of whom, Chauncey Edward, provides an arresting case in point. Proscriptions against black aviators in the Army aside, Chauncey Spencer became a private pilot, and flew from Chicago to Washington.
In the halls of Congress, he and Dale White encountered Senator Harry Truman, who gave them his ear. Taken with what they had to say, the Senator subsequently made a successful argument for the authorization and commissioning of the Tuskegee Airmen. Like those of his parents and grandparents, Chauncey Spencer's story is remarkable. Doubtless Anne Spencer did not miss the broad implications of her son's having "slipped the surly bonds of earth." She had, after all, done the same thing on poetical wings rather than mechanical ones.
Each Spencer story has unique worth, but in America's history, their collective value exceeds the sum of its parts.
To schedule a tour of the
Anne Spencer House and Garden,
call (434) 845-1313
Adults, $5; seniors, $4; children under 12, $2; college students with
institutional ID, $3; group fees, by arrangement beforehand.
Anne Bethel Spencer's House & Garden
Is Operated And Maintained By The
Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation
Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation
To preserve and celebrate, through education and research, the
literary, cultural, and social legacy of Anne Spencer, thus
memorializing her contributions, and those of the Spencer
family, to the City of Lynchburg, the Commonwealth of
Virginia, and the United States of America.
To engage in a broad range of innovative and traditional edu-
cational enterprises that use the Spencer properties, collections,
and archives to illustrate and document Anne Spencer's phi-
losophy, vision, and literary accomplishments.
- To deliver learner-centered programs and projects that
stimulate creativity, promote historical awareness, and fos-
ter respect for the dignity of all people.
- To encourage, support, and undertake scholarly research
that expands, regionally and nationally, recognition and
appreciation of the Spencer heritage.
- To ensure the preservation, security, and integrity of the
Spencer structures, grounds, materials, and documents.