Anne Spencer was a poet, a civil rights activist, a teacher, librarian, wife and mother, and a gardener.
More than thirty of her poems were published in her lifetime, making her an important figure of the black literary and cultural movement of the 1920s—the Harlem Renaissance—and only the second African American poet to be included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973).
Noted for verse preoccupied with biblical and mythological themes, as well as those of her garden and nature, Spencer shared intellectual respect and repartee with such notables as James Weldon Johnson, who first discovered her poetic talents in 1919, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, Sterling A. Brown, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neal Hurston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell, Claude McKay, George Washington Carver, H.L. Mencken, Amaza Lee Meredith, Gwendolyn Brooks, and the Rev. Martin Luther King.
In addition to her writing, Spencer helped to found the Lynchburg Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was also the librarian at the all-black Dunbar High School, a position she held for 20 years. Here she supplemented the original three books by bringing others from her own collection at home, as well as those provided by her employer, the all-white Jones Memorial Library. She spent much of her time writing and serving on local committees to improve the legal, social, and economic aspects of African Americans’ lives.
Amidst the troubled, segregated times in which she lived, Anne Spencer sought refuge in her garden and in the cottage, Edankraal, which her husband Edward built for her in the garden behind their home. The name Edankraal combines Edward and Anne and kraal, the Afrikaans word for enclosure or corral. Here she could lose herself in her flowers and creativity, and work into the wee hours of the morning.
The results of Spencer’s contemplative time in her garden and the cottage garnered her literary success as well as regard from the intellectual community of the 1920s. The Spencer home on Pierce Street became a salon for many intellectuals who visited regularly, and for African American travelers, who found hospitality at the Spencer home when laws of segregation barred them from hotels.
Source: Anne Spencer Museum Biography