Harlem Renaissance poet and activist Anne Bethel Scales Bannister Spencer was born on a Virginia farm in 1882. The daughter of former slaves, Spencer’s mother enrolled her in school for the first time when she was 11, at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (now Virginia University of Lynchburg). Six years later, Spencer graduated as valedictorian. Though she lived in Virginia her whole life, she maintained close friendships with many Harlem Renaissance writers, including James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois. She worked with Johnson and others to establish the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP and served for 20 years as the librarian for Dunbar High School.
Spencer’s poetry engages themes of religion, race, and the natural world. She was the first African American woman poet to be featured in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973).