Civil rights icon Marian Spencer recalls her landmark lawsuit which broke the color line at Cincinnati’s Coney Island.
Sam Greene/The Enquirer
When Marian Spencer was an undergraduate student at the University of Cincinnati more than 70 years ago, she wasn’t allowed to live in a dorm on campus. Now, the civil rights activist’s name will permanently reside on the university’s newest residence hall.
UC Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to name the new high-rise Marian Spencer Hall, which will open on Campus Green in 2018.
Spencer, a treasured civil rights leader, helped desegregate Coney Island in 1955 and later the integration of its Sunlite Pool through protests and court battles.
In 1983, she was the first African-American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council and was later sworn in as vice-mayor.
Spencer grew up following in her grandfather’s footsteps of community activism. She watched marches of the Ku Klux Klan in front of their home Gallipolis, Ohio and joined the NAACP at 13 years old.
She moved to Cincinnati to attend UC, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1942. She continued on a path that would be instrumental for social advancement in the city.
In 1972, she was instrumental in an NAACP action to desegregate Cincinnati Public Schools. Spencer became the first female president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP in 1981.
Spencer served on the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1980. She and her husband Donald, also a UC graduate, were honored by the university with honorary degrees in 2006.
Locally, Spencer served on the boards or in other capacities for the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cincinnati Woman’s City Club and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. She’s also been named The Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year and received a Career Woman of Achievement award from the YWCA.
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