This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture
This happened in her hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. Together, Anne and her husband Edward worked their way into the middle class at a time when the majority of southern blacks were struggling to maintain a working class existence.
Anne served as a teacher and librarian, and her husband was Lynchburg’s first parcel postman. Their unconventional yet genteel life is reflected in the artwork, books, unusual wall colors, and cozy warmth of their home.
Although Anne Spencer’s beloved garden suffered a period of neglect after her death and underwent a major restoration in 1983, many of the perennial flowers and shrubs you see there today were planted by her in the 1930s.
The word pergola comes from the Latin pergula—a projecting eave—and you may associate pergolas with the grape arbors of Italy. But these structures, with their trelliswork and open roofs, are common to many cultures.
They were a major source of inspiration for her poetry and include lilacs, wisteria, several varieties of roses, and, appropriately, a flower called Poet’s narcissus.
Approaching the back of the house through the garden, you will pass the cottage, named Edankraal by Anne Spencer (Edward + Anne + kraal: a traditional, enclosed African village).
Anne welcomed guests to the cottage—W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among many others—to discuss literature, the arts, and the issues facing African Americans of the day.
The pergola in Anne Spencer’s garden supports wisteria and other climbing plants. It was restored in 2007.
A lover muses
Anne Spencer is remembered as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance—a flowering of African American culture and arts that began after World War I and extended into the 1930s. She wrote in a romantic vein about love, the search for meaning in life, women’s lives and struggles, and the experience of African Americans.
She often drew her imagery from nature. The poem she wrote out on the tall kitchen cupboard is called “Lines to a Nasturtium (A Lover Muses).” It was published in 1926.
The padded door
Multi-talented like his wife, Edward Spencer designed and built the Spencer residence in 1903. The Queen Anne style house has many unique interior touches that reflect Edward’s creativity and ingenuity. The padded, red leather door in the kitchen was recycled from a movie theater in downtown Lynchburg.
The lavender bedroom
Above the mantle, a map showing the Trail of Tears has been affixed to the wall. In the 1830s, thousands of Native Americans, primarily Cherokees, were forced from their ancestral lands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee and resettled on reservations in what is now Oklahoma.
They made the trek to the far side of the Mississippi on foot, and this often deadly journey became known as the Trail of Tears. The map in the Spencer house reflects Anne Spencer’s profound engagement in issues of discrimination and justice.
In 1919, James Weldon Johnson came south as a field agent of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to set up a branch of the association in Lynchburg. A poet, novelist, and editor, Johnson was among many distinguished African Americans who stayed at the Spencer home.
Perhaps he slept in the lavender bedroom. None of the Spencers' African American houseguests would have had much choice about accommodations in Lynchburg if they had wanted it—Jim Crow laws there banned blacks from hotels.
There are family photographs in almost every room of the Spencer house. You might notice that not all of them depict African Americans. Anne Spencer was of mixed lineage—black, white, and Seminole Indian—and appears to have embraced her diverse ancestry.