Cincinnati Civil Rights Leaders Give Historic Collection to UC Libraries

CINCINNATI – February 27, 2017 – The University of Cincinnati Libraries today received the archives of Marian and Donald Spencer, two of Cincinnati’s most celebrated civil rights activists and leaders, completing their historic collection. Marian, the former vice mayor of Cincinnati, is widely known for her efforts to desegregate Cincinnati’s public schools and Coney Island Amusement Park. Her late husband, Donald, was one of the first African American realtors in Cincinnati and the first African American broker on the Cincinnati Board of Realtors.

“I’m very happy to share the collection with the university and greater community,” Marian said. “Donald and I both graduated from UC, which makes it extra special that the archives will be locally available at the university.”

The Marian and Donald Spencer Collection spans eight decades and includes letters, memoranda, articles, memorabilia, photographs, honors, awards and more. The collection documents many significant historical challenges and advances during the Spencers’ quest for racial equality. Of these, the best known are the desegregation of Cincinnati’s public schools and Coney Island Amusement Park, as well as YWCA pools and summer camps nationwide, which became national policy in 1950. 

“The Marian and Donald Spencer Collection enriches our understanding of Cincinnati during the civil rights era and is a vital addition to UC Libraries,” said Dean and University Librarian Xuemao Wang. “The archives tell Marian and Donald’s powerful life stories, from leading the desegregation of Coney Island to helping African Americans purchase homes in an anti-black market. We are honored to preserve the Spencers’ legacy for future generations.” 

The collection also includes stories connected to UC’s history, such as the creation of extracurricular activities and organizations for African American students and the integration of on-campus student housing.

“Through a lifetime of activism and civil rights leadership, Marian and Donald Spencer were groundbreakers in making UC, our region and our nation more aware of racial inequities,” said UC President Neville Pinto. “We are proud to house their collection at the university, where students, faculty, staff and the entire community can learn from and be inspired by their stories.”

In 1991, Marian and Donald donated a portion of their archives to UC. Since their initial gift, their collection has been accessed and researched by faculty, researchers and students from the departments of Africana studies, history, journalism, political science, sociology, and women’s studies. 

“The collection is significant because it documents more than heritage,” said Kevin Grace, university archivist and head of the Archives & Rare Books Library. “It documents efforts. It documents commitment. It’s a collection for the people.” 

The Marian and Donald Spencer Collection is open to the public and will be preserved in UC’s Archives and Rare Books Library in Blegen Library. The collection was officially turned over to UC Libraries during a celebration this morning in Tangeman University Center. Marian Spencer and university leaders were in attendance.

“Marian and Donald Spencers’ lives overlapped a crucial era in the civil rights movement,” said Charles F. Casey-Leininger, Director of Public History at the UC College of Arts and Sciences. “Their attack on discrimination in Cincinnati in the early 1950s helped pioneer tactics that would later be used in the Deep South. In school, most learn about leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but Marian and Donald’s papers remind us that the civil rights movement was broad, deep and diverse, that it was necessary outside the South, and that ordinary people made change happen. Their story can teach us how to move forward with today’s civil rights work.”


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