By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
You will not see famous writers like James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, or W.E.B. DuBois stroll through the home of Anne Spencer; but you will see the impact they had on her life.
The first Virginian and first African-American to have her poetry included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry, Spencer frequently opened her tasteful home and garden to many famous Black Renaissance Artists and well-known personalities, including Marian Anderson, Thurgood Marshall, and the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
This means if you visit the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum this summer you can see where she wrote her poetry. More than 30 of her poems were published in her lifetime. And you can also contribute to the $58,000 renovation project that is underway.
“People look at us from the outside … and it’s freshly painted and they come inside and it’s so neat and staged so nicely,” said Advisory Board Member Jane White, in a recent interview.
“So they see that and it’s like being all dressed up and pretty,” she said. “But who knows what’s underneath,” White added.
Much has changed since the poet’s husband, Edward Spencer built their home in 1903. The roof has rusted. Pipes leak. And bad wiring adds up to high electric bills in the winter. Nearly 100 percent of the museum’s operating budget goes toward repairs.
Meanwhile, the once-stately home has falling chimney bricks, antique wiring in the basement, and rotting beams in the dining room which also needs repairs. The furnace stopped working in 2008. Unable to pay $15,000 to replace it, the museum relied for a couple of years on electric heaters.
To avoid paying winter heating bills that could climb to $700-$800 a month, the museum closed during the winter. In the summer, artifacts swelter in the heat.
“Funds that people had donated to us that we had hoped to use for other things, went to our electric bill,” said the poet’s granddaughter Shaun Spencer-Hester.
Judith Johnson, president of the board of directors, said, “We don’t have the climate control that is really needed to preserve everything.”
Still, this is the home where DuBois conversed with Zora Neal Hurston. The home opened its doors to other well-known figures including Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell, Claude McKay, George Washington Carver, H.L. Mencken, and Gwendolyn Brooks. The museum contains an array of artifacts including period furniture, papers, and related family papers. Books for the poet’s personal library reside at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, and the University of Virginia. Letters are available at Yale University. One of Spencer’s most influential works was “White Things” which was published in The Crisis. Keith Clark, in Notable Black American Women, referred to it as “the quintessential ‘protest’ poem.” “This is a national historic site,” White said. “It’s not just an interesting place in Lynchburg. It’s on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, and there are not a lot of those around.
It is really, really an important site and any board, as these people are, have to be good stewards of the building and they are doing the most fabulous job of keeping it going just like it was.” But the poet’s granddaughter said the main reason the museum continues to open its doors is to preserve history. The Lynchburg poetess died at the age of 93 on July 27, 1975. She is buried beside her husband Edward, who died in 1964, in the family plot at Forest Hills Cemetery in Lynchburg. “This is still my grandparents’ home,” Spencer-Hester said. “This is where my father was born. It’s most important that it’s preserved for their legacy We have to know that it is going to be sustained for the future.” Recently, the museum entered into a promising partnership with Lynchburg City Schools. “But we can’t do that until we have our house in order,” Spencer-Hester said. To visit or contribute to the renovation project at The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum located at 1313 Pierce Street in Lynchburg, please phone (434)845-1313, or visit www.annespencermuseum.com