A Harlem Renaissance poet and civil rights activist born in Henry County is being honored on a forever stamp that the U.S. Postal Service began issuing last week.
Along with the likes of Langton Hughes and Claude McKay, poet Anne Spencer carved her way into American history as a forerunner for African-American female writers.
Spencer was born in Henry County on Feb. 6, 1882, the only child of Joel Cephus Bannister and Sarah Louise Scales. She was named Annie Bethel Bannister.
When the marriage of Spencer’s parents came to an end, her mother took her to Bramwell, West Virginia. Unable to support her only child, Sarah gave her daughter over to William T. Dixie, a well-respected member of the black community.
Spencer was sent to Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg when she was only 11 years old and she graduated before her 18th birthday as valedictorian. It was there she met Edward Spencer, and the two married in 1901, had three children and settled in Lynchburg.
By the 1920s Spencer’s poems were being published in the most prestigious collections of black literature in America from James Weldon Johnson’s “The Book of American Negro Poetry” (1922) to Langston Hughes’ “The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 – An Anthology.”
Among the guests Spencer received in her Lynchburg home were Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Maya Angelou.
Spencer is featured in a series of 20 stamps honoring “one of the great artistic and literary movements in American history,” according to a USPS release.
Along with Spencer, the series features novelist Nella Larsen; writer, philosopher, educator and arts advocate Alain Locke and historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg – all members of the Harlem Renaissance School of Writers.
Spencer became the first black poet to be published in the “Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry” in 1973. She died two years later.
Spencer’s husband became Lynchburg’s first African-American postal carrier. Now his wife, an internationally recognized poet with a most humble beginning here in Henry County, is featured on a post office stamp.