Spencer family had incredible impact in Lynchburg and changed the nation

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 6:57 PM EST
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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - The Spencer family had an incredible impact in Lynchburg but they also changed the nation as a whole. Now, two siblings are keeping their family’s legacy alive.

If you visit 1313 Pierce street, you will find Shaun Spencer giving a tour. For the last 15 years, she’s been leading the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum.

“Either Anne Spencer the librarian or Anne Spencer the poet, or Anne Spencer the gardener, Anne Spencer the mother and grandmother, Anne Spencer the activist and also advocate,” said Shaun Spencer.

And who better to talk about Anne Spencer than her granddaughter?

“I knew her as Granny,” added Shaun Spencer.

Anne Spencer was the first Black librarian employed by the city of Lynchburg.

“She wants that position only because Lynchburg didn’t have a library open to African Americans, to Blacks, at that time;it was only open to whites,” explained Shaun Spencer.

Click here for other stories on Black History Month

Anne’s activism was focused behind the scenes. She used her position to check out books from the white libraries for the Black community.

“Even in her poetry she’s voicing her opinion but she’s using maybe a flower to describe that, or maybe a spider,” said Shaun Spencer.

During the 1950s, Anne became associated with the Harlem School of Writers, the oldest organization of Black writers in the country.

“Harlem is coming to Lynchburg. Harlem is coming to this home where we are, 1313 Pierce Street. People like James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and even in the later days Maya Angelou,” added Shaun.

But Anne wouldn’t be the only one paving the way for the community.

Her son Chauncey Spencer fought for opportunities for Black pilots. That story is told by Shaun’s brother Chauncey Spencer II. He created a traveling museum to keep their father’s legacy alive.

“1922, when he was 16 years old, and he went to Preston Wood Airport, now Lynchburg Regional Airport, to seek aviation training, and they told him and his father we don’t teach colored to fly; they don’t have the intelligence,” said Chauncey Spencer II.

Through his mother’s connections, Chauncey flew to Washington in 1939. He convinced a then-young Missouri senator that a Black Air corps should be formed.

In 1996, WDBJ7 talked to him about the experience. “He said, well, look, don’t ever talk about race; talk about your citizen right. His name is Harry Truman,” said Chauncey Spencer.

Chauncey Spencer II says this is the key to why and how the Tuskegee school was formed ahead of WWII. They became the first Black pilots in the United States armed forces.

“The Tuskegee airmen were the most successful escort pilot; they only lost 27 B-17s and B-24s, escorting the bombers to Berlin and back and that record can never ever be matched,” said Chauncey Spencer II.

Navigating a segregated army, the airmen achieved glory in the air, but racism quickly brought them down to earth.

“As a matter of fact, out of the 992 fighter pilots that were Tuskegee Airmen, not one of them could get a job, when they came back, with a commercial airline,” explained Chauncey Spencer II.

Chauncey served 20 years and today is recognized for leading the way for the integration of the military.

“My 60-year dream was to have a monument for my father. And he was very humble. He didn’t want a statue and he didn’t ask for a statue but he deserved the statue,” added Chauncey Spencer II.

Now that dream is becoming a reality. After 100 years the same airport that denied Chauncey the right to fly will honor him. A bronze statue will be placed by the end of February.

Shaun is in the process of hiring a full-time director for the first time. And for both siblings, it’s about keeping their family legacy alive.

“There’s history that we have that’s part of American history that is being left out of our classrooms And it’s shortening our kids on the opportunities to be fully educated,” said Chauncey Spencer II.

“Look at what’s happening in our literature today or even things that people don’t believe that should be on the bookshelf library. And a lot of that is African American History,” said Shaun Spencer.

Shaun says without history, there is no past to remember or future to look forward to.

“If not, they are going to die and you are not going to know who you are. And you have to know who you are to know where you’re going,” added Spencer.