Spanning the 1920’s, the Harlem Renaissance became a prolific period for art and culture. Many African Americans created literary works of art including books and poetry to celebrate their heritage. Are you familiar with civil rights activist and internationally recognized poet Anne Spencer (1882-1975)?
At 1313 Pierce Street, in the historic district of Lynchburg, Virginia, you will find the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum. Take the tour conducted by her granddaughter, and you will be inspired by the ingenuity and innovation. The Queen Anne style home, built circa 1903 by Anne Spencer and her husband, Edward, contains the original Victorian furnishings and many artifacts dating back to the early twentieth century.
She wrote the following.
We have a lovely home – one that
money did not buy – it was born and evolved
slowly out of our passionate, poverty-
stricken agony to own our own home.
Inside the home, there are many vibrant colors like the green staircase and the red that adorns the upstairs bedroom. Edward delivered parcels by day, but at home he was a skilled, meticulous engineer. He created a fold away ironing board, a telephone booth under a staircase, and he reused discarded materials like pieces of copper and a red theater door to beautify the home. You will be amazed by the fountain at the edge of the pond in the garden. It is truly magnificent.
In an era of Jim Crow and segregation, the home provided lodging to many notable dignitaries such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Read the following poem to discern the impact of Jim Crow.
(Transcribed from Anne Spencer’s handwritten poem)
Being a Negro Woman is the world’s most exciting
game of “Taboo”: By hell there is nothing you can
do that you want to do and by heaven you are
going to do it anyhow—
We do not climb into the Jim Crow galleries
of scenario houses we stay away and read
I read garden and seed catalogs, Browning,
Housman, Whitman, Saturday Evening Post
detective tales, Atlantic Monthly, American
Mercury, Crisis, Opportunity, Vanity Fair,
Hibberts Journal, oh, anything.
I can cook delicious things to eat. . .
Anne and Edward endured turbulent times as indicated by the poem above. Take comfort in the fact that Anne found solace through gardening and her writing. During the tour, I saw poems written on magazines, shoe box tops, and scraps of paper. There is even a poem emblazoned on the kitchen wall. Imagine what she would have done with today’s technology. Edward built a cottage in the garden – Anne’s writing sanctuary known as Edankraal, a sacred place, which is filled with Spencer memorabilia.
James Weldon Johnson discovered her poetic talents in 1919, and her works are still being anthologized today. Anne Spencer leaves a rich legacy not to be ignored. Create much with little. Have a renaissance. Innovate. Revitalize a craft, a home, a garden, a community. Happiness.