Edankraal en Route: Reviving an African- American Space of Cultural Exchange in Segregated Lynchburg

Politics and Social Change; Race and Ethnicity; American Studies; Literature in English, North America, ethnic and minority; Women’s History; American Art and Architecture; Diversity; Underrepresented Groups

An architectural, landscape, and literary digital project to enhance access to and knowledge of the Anne Spencer House and Garden.

Research Interests
  • Design Thinking
  • Digital Humanities
  • architectural history
  • Digital Design
  • landscape architecture
  • Politics
  • poetry
  • Material Culture
  • African American History
  • American Design and Art
  • Women's History
  • Civil Rights History
  • Virginia History
  • Harlem Renaissance

Design Augmentation for Anne Spencer’s House and Garden Museum

Anne Bethel Spencer (February 6, 1882 – July 27, 1975) was a renowned Harlem Renaissance poet, civil rights activist, and gardener whose house and garden in Lynchburg, VA is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Spencers’ house and garden was an urban center of rest, gathering, and Black creativity for Black intellectual and cultural figures who stayed in the house, such as W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Anderson, Amaza Lee Meredith (architect), and others. Some were en route to Atlanta and points South and others were invited to speak at Lynchburg’s Virginia Theological Seminary, the alma mater of the Spencers. Anne Spencer was instrumental in founding the local chapter of the NAACP and served for 20 years as the librarian for Lynchburg’s first African American library at Dunbar High School.

Anne Spencer left behind a rich trove of materials that have not been fully analyzed. These are in the form of her house and garden, now a small private museum, and her papers, mainly housed at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. This archive of African American cultural history and topo-biography calls for far more study and community engagement both in Lynchburg and beyond, from various angles: as the only intact house museum of an African American woman writer, it is a rare example of Black placemaking, architecture, and landscape design embedded with intersecting narratives and cultural movements. It also reflects the daily creative practice of a distinguished poet and design thinker who redefined segregation and private domesticity as a public space for free interaction of Black and white women and men.

The Project

Our project is designed with students and the community in mind. It provides the opportunity for students, drawn from throughout the University, to engage with the Spencer House and Garden both through an interdisciplinary course in fall 2021 taught by Architectural History, Architecture/Design Thinking, and English faculty and through ongoing internships. To serve the needs of the museum and K-12 teachers as well as higher education in Virginia and elsewhere,  we will create a digital platform using the archives and material culture Spencer and her family have left behind, previous studies (in photography and prose), and the virtual tour of the house designed by Virginia Humanities. Our digital project specifically will augment this tour with digital and physical three-dimensional models, historical images, texts, and audio-visual files. Work will continue with students after the fall 2021 course through a series of funded interdisciplinary internships to continue the development of the digital platform, in part with the UVA Center for Cultural Landscapes (who have agreed to collaborate). The project will produce educational resources, responding to the final report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth, which among other things seeks “instructional supports…to equip all educators to gain appropriate foundational knowledge in African American history.” The Project will also include a series of visiting lectures (following Reilly’s and Cleckley’s past funded Jefferson Trust model) during the fall 2021 course and 2022 to deepen student and community awareness of Anne Spencer and the significance of her house. Cleckley currently works in the City of Lynchburg through _mpathic design, with the City’s planning office, the Dearington Neighbourhood Plan, and the local United Way. Booth has published a book about literary house museums, Homes and Haunts (Oxford U. Press, 2016), which engaged with gender, race, and space in architectural history and museum studies.

We envisage the Spencer digital project as the first stage of a larger project mapping the Harlem Renaissance and the rich Black intellectual community of the early twentieth century. This project will establish a proof of concept for the support of further grant applications. 

Desired outcomes

This 3Cavs project bridges Arts and Sciences (literature, history, African American studies) and architectural and landscape studies, while it promotes open-access digital humanities research and pedagogy. It initiates a recurrent course and will yield K-12 learning tools (e.g. 3D models; digitized manuscript) focused on an African American heritage site in Jim Crow Virginia. The lecture series funded by the grant invites prospective participants in future grant applications. Funded students and faculty leaders will develop and implement an augmented virtual tour of the house and garden, its networks of visitors, and the social and writing practices linked to the site. This work will be communicated in blog posts, one conference presentation in 2022, and plans for a book.   

The project plans to extend to external funding sources post 3 Cavs, applying to the National Park Services’ Civil Rights Grants Programs to further support of documentation, interpretation, education, and architectural services. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/civilrights/grants.htm

The team will also apply with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grants, strategically “advancing ongoing preservation activities for historic places such as sites, museums, and landscapes that represent African American cultural heritage”.https://savingplaces.org/action-fund-grants#.YDkXJxNKh24 

A formal exhibition of digital and physical models and documentation is expected for the School of Architecture, with an additional application to the Graham Foundation, as the work “responds to today’s challenges, fostering new connections across disciplines, and expanding the field of architecture.” 

http://www.grahamfoundation.org/ Both Professors Reilly and Cleckley have extensive experience in similar grants - including two Jefferson Trust Grants for James Monroe’s Highland and Skyscraper Gothic / Fralin Museum of Art (Reilly 3 total, Cleckley 5 total).