Katherine Graves ~ Assistant Editor
You can help support the Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation and enjoy food and music with the local community by coming out to the Pierce Street Community Cookout on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. outside the William J. Calloway Store at 1301 Pierce St. in Lynchburg.
The proceeds for the cookout will go to the Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation, which supports the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum, a historical landmark, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. Anne Spencer was an African-American Harlem-Renaissance poet and civil rights activist who spent her life primarily in Lynchburg.
Plates for the event will be $8, said Shaun Spencer-Hester, Anne Spencer’s granddaughter, Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation treasurer and overseer of the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum. People can have their choice of fried fish, grilled chicken or a hamburger with homemade macaroni and cheese and string beans. Mint tea made from Anne Spencer’s recipe will be $1. The dessert option will be $2.
African-American musician Hunter Hayes will provide music. His son Hunter Hayes Jr., known as Treadway Hunter, will also be at the event and may perform. Spencer-Hester stated that there will also be children’s games and an oral history booth, where people who have lived in the area can talk about their families’ histories.
“Anne Spencer, as a grandmother, … wanted you to be creative. She was always interested in our education,” Spencer-Hester said.
Anne Spencer, born Annie Bethel Scales Bannister, lived from 1882 to 1975. She attended Virginia Theological Seminary and College, which is now Virginia University of Lynchburg. There, she met Edward Spencer, her eventual husband, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
In 1901, Anne and Edward Spencer married, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. Two years later, they moved into their Pierce St. home that Edward Spencer designed and built.
The Spencers’ garden and cottage, where Anne Spencer did some of her writing, are called Edankraal, a combination of Edward and Anne’s names and “kraal,” the Afrikaans word for enclosure or corral, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website and Spencer-Hester.
“Edward Spencer was the first African-American parcel postman in Lynchburg from 1912 to 1924,” and Anne Spencer was “the first librarian at Dunbar High School for 22 years,” according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
Anne and Edward Spencer had three children, Bethel, Alroy and Chauncey. Chauncey Spencer, Spencer-Hester’s father, was a pioneer aviator who helped start the National Airmen Association of America (NAAA) and whose ten-city tour flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. with fellow NAAA member Dale Lawrence White helped to convince Congress to include African-Americans in the pre-World War II Civilian Pilot Training Program, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website and the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. Chauncy Spencer’s retirement home at 1306 Pierce St. is also a historical landmark.
“[Anne] Spencer helped to found the Lynchburg Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),” according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
When James Weldon Johnson, NAACP field secretary, visited the Spencers to help start the Lynchburg chapter in 1919, he realized Anne Spencer was a poet and “encouraged her to publish her work,” according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. In Feb. 1920, Anne Spencer’s poetry was first published in the NAACP journal, “The Crisis.”
African-Americans were not allowed by many to stay in hotels in Lynchburg and much of the South until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the FindLaw website. So Anne and Edward Spencer opened their homes to many visitors and friends, such as W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neal Hurston and Martin Luther King Jr., according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
Edward Spencer died in 1964, and Anne Spencer died in 1975. A year after Anne Spencer’s death, their home became a historic landmark, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
The Pierce Street Renaissance Historic District is “the smallest of Lynchburg’s seven historic districts,” according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website.
Spencer-Hester is restoring the William J. Calloway Store, another historical landmark on Pierce St., and hopes to turn it into a visitors’ center for the historic district and a place where students can come to participate in educational programs and use computers and Wi-Fi after school. Spencer-Hester stated that the store property has been in her family since 1906.
“A large part of our mission is education, and so we need a facility that we can actually do that. We can have a room where we can offer educational programs to the children… [and] a safe space to come after school and not have to go home to an empty house or a space that they can come and they get Wi-Fi or to even get on a computer. Not everybody has access to that after school,” said Spencer-Hester.
The organization also holds an annual Anne Spencer Poetry Contest for local children. The age groups for the contest are kindergarten to 3rd grade, 4th to 8th grade, and 9th to 12th grade, Spencer-Hester stated. A winner is chosen from each age group every year. The prizes for the contest are $100 and a book of Anne Spencer’s poetry.
Other fundraisers the foundation has held include Fish Frys, a Pierce Street Festival and Saturday Night Salons every second Saturday in June, July and Aug. with poets, musicians and dancers in the garden, Spencer-Hester said.
Spencer-Hester stated that she moved to Lynchburg in 2008 to spend time with her mother, and lives across the street from the Anne Spencer House. Spencer-Hester has used her background in interior design to work on the house and other projects with the foundation. She enjoys research and is working on a timeline that will answer questions about what brought visitors to her grandparents’ house.
Spencer-Hester’s son Jordan Hester, brother-in law Leotis McMullen and cousin Dr. David Harris are also Spencer family members on the Board of Directors for the museum, stated Spencer-Hester.
“It really is just all about sharing your history with people in the community. And hopefully that history will inspire them because if they learn the history of any of these people, they will learn that there were struggles. And their struggles were much bigger than our struggles today. And if they could overcome those struggles, then we can overcome our struggles today,” Spencer-Hester said.
Street parking will be available for the cookout, and Robert S. Payne Elementary School’s parking lot will also be available for parking, Spencer-Hester said.
Spencer-Hester recommends that people bring a chair or an umbrella for shade to the event.
The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum is located at 1313 Pierce Street. The garden is open to the general public for free from sunset to sunrise all year, Spencer-Hester said.
“The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum will be closed to the public from October 1, 2016 through April 22, 2017,” according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. “The Museum plans to reopen the week of April 22 – 29, 2017 for Lynchburg’s Garden Day during the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week.”
Tours of the house should be scheduled two weeks in advance if possible. Tours are by appointment only, according to the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum website. Tours of the house are $5 for college students with a college ID, $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $3 for children under 12. For groups of 10 or more, tours are $3 for college students with a college ID, $10 for adults and $5 for seniors.
Those interested in getting involved in The Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation can email Spencer-Hester at 1313PierceSt@AnneSpencerMuseum.com.