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Anne Spencer Portrait

Born Annie Bethel Bannister on a Virginia plantation of racially diverse parentage—her father was of African American, white, and Native American heritage, while her mother was the child of a slaveholder and a slave—Spencer herself was carefully prepared for the black middle class. To this complex background was added the political education she received from James Weldon Johnson, whom she first met when he was field secretary for the NAACP in 1918. She had begun writing poetry in 1896, but in the 1920s took on modernist techniques and a more pointed politics, though she addressed women's issues more frequently than racial ones. Many of her poems were about nature, and they were often enigmatic and ironic. Meanwhile she organized the Lynchburg, Virginia, NAACP chapter, and wrote editorials attacking the fiction of white supremacy. Yet she also loved the solitude of her garden and spent much time away from the world in a cabin there. A large quantity of her unpublished work was destroyed after her death.