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Civil Rights Icon Marian Spencer to Hold Book Launch, Signing Event Oct. 22


A new biography on UC alumna and civil rights pioneer Marian Spencer chronicles her more than a half-century campaign to battle injustice.

Date: 10/20/2015 12:00:00 PM
By: Rachel Richardson
Phone: (513) 556-5219

UC ingot  

It was a dark moonless night when the Ku Klux Klan came to Gallipolis, Ohio, the summer of 1928.  

Across the railroad tracks on the “Negro side” of the small river town located about 150 miles northeast of Cincinnati, Harry McDonald Alexander gathered his eight-year-old twin daughters, Marian and Mildred, on the second-floor balcony of the family’s hardware store and home.  

Fiery torches proudly waved by the masked marchers illuminated the night sky as the raucous parade edged closer to the Alexander family home.  A frightened Marian wanted to run inside, but her father held her close.   

“He wanted us to see what the Klansman were doing.  He felt that if we understood the KKK’s purpose was to intimidate us, we would learn not to be afraid,” Marian would later remember.

Overcoming fear and standing defiant in the face of injustice are lessons a young Marian took to heart and carried with her as the University of Cincinnati graduate became an indefatigable trailblazer for civil rights in the Queen City and beyond.

She and longtime friend Dot Christenson chronicle those experiences in a new book, "Keep On Fighting: The Life and Civil Rights Legacy of Marian A. Spencer," released in June.  

The authors will hold a book launch and signing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 22, at the University of Cincinnati’s African American Cultural & Resource Center, 60 W. Charlton St., Corryville.  

The granddaughter of a freed slave, Spencer’s civil rights activities began early – joining the NAACP at the age of 13 and campaigning for an open college prom while a student at UC in 1938-1942.  

It was at UC where she met husband Donald Spencer, who had helped found Quadres, an African American student organization that sought to improve opportunities for black students and integrate them into campus life.    


Marian Spencer

The couple, who would later be dubbed Cincinnati’s first couple of civil rights, were married for nearly 70 years before Donald’s death in 2010 at the age of 95.  

As president of the all-black West End YWCA, Spencer negotiated a 1948 merger with the all-white Downtown branch which desegregated its cafeteria and swimming pool.  She later introduced motions to desegregate YWCA pools and summer camps nationwide, which became national policy in 1950.

Spencer was among several plaintiffs to sue the Cincinnati Board of Education in 1972, alleging unconstitutional segregation in Cincinnati schools.  She went on to become the first black woman elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1983, where her campaign to raise awareness of industrial toxic-waste practices in low-income and minority neighborhoods was later adapted into national Superfund legislation.

Spencer is perhaps best known for leading the decade-long effort to integrate Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park, which for more than 65 years had operated as a riverside playground for the city’s white residents.

She launched the battle in 1952 after her two young sons saw a children’s TV show broadcast at the park and asked their mother if she would take them.   

The seasoned civil rights activist and NAACP board member lobbied a local attorney to file suit against the park and for the next two years, organized integrated protest marches at the park, where demonstrators were pelted with tomatoes and dirt and some were arrested.  

Facing pressure by Cincinnati officials who threatened not to renew the park’s license if it remained segregated, Coney Island opened its gates to black guests in 1955, but only to its rides and picnic grounds.  The park’s Sunlite Pool and Moonlite Gardens dance hall, located in a different county and not subject to city oversight, wouldn’t open to black people until 1961.  

Spencer’s hard-fought battles to promote diversity and inclusion continue to serve as an inspiration, said Ewaniki Moore-Hawkins, director of UC’s African American Cultural & Resource Center.  The organization is sponsoring the book launch in partnership with the office of UC’s Chief Diversity Officer.  

“While managing many challenging forces as a black student or a black professional surviving in predominately white environments, Mrs. Spencer has distinctly pioneered a wealth of documented accomplishments,” Moore-Hawkins said.  “Even today as a 95 year old alumna of UC, Mrs. Spencer is still an inspiring example to all students.  

The event is free and open to the community, but registration is requested.  For more information, call the AACRC at 513-556-1177.
 


IF YOU GO:

What: "Keep On Fighting: The Life and Civil Rights Legacy of Marian A. Spencer” book launch and signing
When: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 22
Where: University of Cincinnati’s African American Cultural & Resource Center, 60 W. Charlton St., Corryville
Information: 513-556-1177