“The case started when Spencer’s sons heard a radio ad inviting children to Coney Island to meet a local TV personality. She telephoned to ask if the invitation applied to all children and was assured that it did; however, when Spencer added, “We are Negroes,” the Coney Island representative admitted the invitation did not extend to Negro children. Spencer was banished from the front gate by a guard brandishing a gun on the Fourth of July 1952. Spencer filed suit and subsequently won the case, which desegregated Coney Island.” – Wikipedia

by David Miller – photos by Alex Eicher

Cincinnati, Ohio – The life of Civil rights activist Marian Regelia Alexander Spencer was honored with a statue at Smale Riverfront Park on Sunday June 26 – the eve of her birth date. It is Cincinnati’s first statue of a named woman. It depicts Spencer holding the hand of a young girl and the girl holding hands with a young boy. The three are in a not-closed circle that leaves space for another child to grab Spencer’s left hand and the boy’s right hand to close the tight circle.

Spencer was the first Black president of the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati in 1970. The organization spearheaded the private fundraising for the statue. It is located at the John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park in the Cincinnati Parks Foundation Women’s Committee Garden.

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The sculpture was designed by Cincinnati Natives, Tom Tsuchiya, and Gina Erardi.

Spencer was the first Black woman to be elected to the Cincinnati City Council and once served as vice-mayor.

She fought for the desegregation of Coney Island and YWCA summer camps and pools nationwide She was the first African American woman to be elected president of the Cincinnati chapter NAACP.

Spencer died at the age of 99, on July 9, 2019, and was the granddaughter of a former slave. She was active in the civil rights movement to desegregate schools and end discrimination and became the first female president of the Cincinnati NAACP chapter. She also served on the University of Cincinnati board of trustees.

Spencer was born in the town of Gallipolis, Ohio in 1920. She lived in the home of her grandfather, a freed slave from West Virginia, with her twin sister, Mildred, two brothers, Harry and Vernon, and her parents. The home was built after her grandfather moved to Gallipolis. She became a member of the NAACP at age 13. In 1938 Spencer graduated from Gallia Academy High School. She was co-valedictorian with her sister and a member of the National Honor Society.

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After graduation, she moved to Cincinnati to attend the University of Cincinnati as a scholarship student with her sister and fellow scholarship student, Mildred Malcolm. While at the University of Cincinnati, Spencer campaigned for the college prom to be open to all students. That was the start of her struggle for equality for all Greater Cincinnatians.

Spencer earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Cincinnati in 1942. In 1940, she married Donald Andrew Spencer, Sr., a Cincinnati teacher and real estate broker. They raised two sons, Donald Jr. and Edward Alexander.

Tom Tsuchiya, who created the piece with Gina Erardi a Woman’s City Club member, and the Marian Spencer Statue Committee Chair Alice Schneider proposed the statue in 2019. Spencer died later that year at age 99.

Spencer’s career included numerous achievements as well as many awards and honors for her contributions to human service organizations and civic volunteer work. Among them are Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year Award; Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews; YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award; and Humanitarian Award, Freedom Heritage Foundation of Columbus, Ohio.

She was an active member of the Board of Trustees of Planned Parenthood of Cincinnati in the 1990s and subsequently served on the Planned Parenthood Foundation Board. In 1998 Spencer was named a “Great Living Cincinnatian” by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

In 2010 the Cincinnati Public Schools renamed an elementary school in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati the Donald A. and Marian Spencer Education Center. In 2016 the Cincinnati City Council voted to rename the 100 block of Walnut Street between Theodore Berry Way and Second Street at The Banks “Marian Spencer Way.” In 2018 the University of Cincinnati named a new residence hall on its main campus “Marian Spencer Hall.” 

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Marian Spencer described herself as a fighter. “All people should be equal,” she said. “There should be equality, above everything. Given equal opportunity, we all arrive at the same place.” She was named a Lifetime Achiever by Applause! magazine and co-chaired a YWCA $3.8-million fund-raising campaign in Cincinnati. “Without difficulties that people met and overcome, we are less strong,” Spencer said. “We’ve had our share.”

The bio statements and quotes in this article are attributed to Cincinnati History and Archives of the Cincinnati Museum Center and Wikipedia – the Free Encyclopedia.

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