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Unsung Heroes: Marian A. Spencer

Photo courtesy of WCPO | Marian A. Spencer has led a long life filled with activism and truimph.


Marian A. Spencer remains an underrepresented heroine of the Civil Rights Movement despite her many accomplishments in integrating Cincinnati. The granddaughter of a freed slave, Marian was not sheltered from the prejudice against African Americans.

As a young girl, she witnessed Ku Klux Klan parades occur mere feet from her home and experienced criticism against her family for speaking out against racial injustice. Rather than fall to a world of hatred and discrimination, she grew into a woman whose passion for equality and justice led to a legacy of triumph and inspiration for those facing adversity. Marian began her community involvement by joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at just 13 years old. She and her twin sister Mildred graduated as co-valedictorians from Gallia Academy High School in 1938. Both decided to attend the University of Cincinnati. Despite their admission, the sisters were prohibited from certain aspects of the campus. They were refused from specialized colleges, such as the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine, and were even refused on-campus housing. Marian was inspired by the discrimination to join (and later become president of) the Fellowship House, campaign against her university and further eliminate segregation in the city. Marian’s most notable success in integrating Cincinnati occurred in 1952, which involved the amusement park Coney Island. After her family was denied entrance to the park, Marian chaired an NAACP lawsuit against Coney Island and won, thus integrating the park for the first time since its opening in 1886. The success continued from there. Marian served on the executive board of the NAACP, becoming the first female president of its Cincinnati branch, and became the first African-American woman to be elected vice mayor of Cincinnati. In addition to these accomplishments, she was recently honored with the name of University of Cincinnati’s Marian Spencer Hall, which stands as a bittersweet reminder of the obstacles faced and the many victories won. Marian, now 97, continues to live in Cincinnati and work toward the eradication of segregation.

An in-depth detail of Marian’s life can be found in the book Keep on Fighting: The Life and Civil Rights Legacy of Marian A. Spencer, written by Dorothy H. Christenson. An event hosted at the Cincinnati Public Library on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. will talk about and focus on this book.


By: Alana Harvey ~Staff Writer~

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