What did Marian Spencer mean to Cincinnati? We named things for her - before she died

Cincinnati Enquirer

How many Cincinnatians who weren't named Lindner, Procter or Gamble have multiple buildings or public spaces named for them? Marian Spencer, whose name is on a street and two buildings.

Spencer made one of the most consequential phone calls in Cincinnati's history, asking if she could bring her two boys to Coney Island. The answer "no" in 1952 spurred her and others to action, triggering a series of events that ended in official desegregation of the amusement park and Cincinnati Public Schools.

She subsequently went on to lead the local chapter of the NAACP, become the first African American woman to serve on Cincinnati City Council and as the vice mayor of Cincinnati.

Late into her 90s, Spencer began to win special public recognition for her leadership and service with the naming of public spaces in her honor, before she died.

A block of Walnut Street in The Banks project Downtown was renamed Marian Spencer Way in 2016. It runs between Second Street, shown here looking east, and Ted Berry Way on the south. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is behind the photographer in this picture.

The street

In 2016, the city renamed a section of Walnut Street for her. Marian Spencer Way runs just one block between Second Street and Ted Berry Way. But it connects to the street named for Cincinnati's first black mayor, who was at the kickoff of Spencer's 1983 election campaign. And it forms the eastern border for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which Spencer helped to raise money to build.

Spencer was once again in Council Chambers, on third floor of City Hall, for the moment. She said she was grateful to be able to be there to receive it when most people her age would be at home knitting.

"I never found it completely sufficient just to knit," said Spencer, according to a WVXU report on the naming.

"Being here was quite an honor," she added referring to her time on Council.

The Spencer Center for Gifted and Exceptional Students, a citywide magnet school, opened in 2017. The building, originally Frederick Douglass School, was renamed for former Cincinnati vice-mayor Marian Spencer and her husband, Donald, after it was renovated. The school is located on Alms Place in Walnut Hills.

The school

The Spencer Center for Gifted and Exceptional Students, a citywide magnet school, opened in 2018. The building, originally Frederick Douglass School, was renamed for the former vice mayor and her husband, Donald, after it was renovated. The school is on Alms Place in Walnut Hills.

The honor of her name on a school underscored how Marian Spencer was the leader of the legal fight that began in 1974 and led to the desegregation of Cincinnati Public Schools.

The University of Cincinnati's Marian Spencer Hall was dedicated in 2018. UC named the 330-student residence hall for Spencer, a 1942 alumna, because she was not allowed as a black student to live on campus. UC also honored her achievements2 as a civil rights leader. The hall at 2911 Scioto Lane is on the UC Campus Green.

The residence hall

The University of Cincinnati opened Marian Spencer Hall in 2018. The hall, that houses 330 students and two restaurants, is at 2911 Scioto Lane on UC's Campus Green. You can see it when driving on Martin Luther King Drive or Jefferson Avenue.

UC honored Spencer, a 1942 alumna, because of her civil rights leadership.

"When Marian was a student at the University of Cincinnati in the late 1930s and early 1940s, she was not permitted to live in a dormitory on our campus," UC president Neville Pinto said at the dedication, according to a UC Magazine posting. "So it is both fitting and powerfully symbolic that today we recognize Mrs. Spencer by naming our high-rise residential structure Marian Spencer Hall."

"This namesake, as beautiful and tall as it is, represents only one small measure compared to the life of the towering yet petite original: Mrs. Spencer. She is a true pioneer who has dedicated her life to justice and busting through barriers that restrict the lives and opportunities of Americans of color."

Obituary:Marian Spencer, a segregation fighter who later served on City Council, dead at age 99