On View Now: Sacred Spaces: The Home and Poetry of Anne Spencer

Our latest exhibition, Sacred Spaces: The Home and Poetry of Anne Spencer, offers a glimpse into the exquisite world of Civil Rights activist, librarian, gardener, and poet Anne Spencer (1882–1975). Spencer spent over fifty years turning her house and her garden into a more beautiful and gentle world than the one outside her gates.

Inspired by the photographs taken by noted architectural and landscape photographer John Hall, the exhibition explores how each space was sacred in its own unique way. In “Any Wife to Any Husband, A Derived Poem,” Spencer writes, “This small garden is half my world.” With a myriad of flowers, a lily pool, and a cottage study, Anne’s garden was her own private poetic Eden. At the same time, her house, the other half of her world, was a welcome refuge for African Americans who would have been prevented from finding lodging in Lynchburg because of the color of their skin. The Spencers hosted civil rights activists, writers, and other famous African Americans such as Gwendolyn Brooks, George Washington Carver, Countee Cullen, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Thurgood Marshall, and even Martin Luther King Jr.

House case

However, for Spencer, poetic creation and political activism were not separated by the boundaries of architecture. Rather, they were wreathed together by Spencer’s own hand in the house and in the garden. She wrote about politics on seed packets and gardening catalogues in her garden cottage, but at the same time, a poem she wrote about her favorite flower, “Lines to a Nasturtium (A Lover Muses)” is, to this day, painted on the kitchen wall.

Shown here is a packet of seeds that Spencer wrote notes on and a copy of Dreer's Garden Book with an unpublished poem

Shown here is a packet of seeds that Spencer used to take notes  and a copy of Dreer’s Garden Book , open to  an unpublished poem

The exhibition is broken down into three parts—house, garden, and garden cottage (known as “Edankraal”)— in order to show how politics and poetry, public and private, the past and the present converge in the sacred spaces Anne Spencer created. To compliment John Hall’s stunning photographs of the house and garden, we have tried to fashion each of Spencer’s sacred spaces through the physical artifacts—manuscripts, books, letters, gardening paraphernalia— she left behind.

“Sacred Spaces” is on view through January 27, 2017 in the first floor gallery of the Harrison Small building. Spencer’s home is open to the public today as the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum. For more information, see annespencermuseum.com. To learn more about John M. Hall’s photography, please visit www.johnmhallphotographs.com.

On View Now: Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution

We’re pleased to announce the opening of our latest mini-exhibition,  “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution: The American Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1970,” which runs through the end of February and is part of the University’s 2016 community MLK Day celebration, “The Call to Higher Ground.” The exhibition is curated by our own Ervin Jordan, research archivist.


Jordan writes, “The American Civil Rights Movement (1954-1970) intensely transformed American society and inspired similar movements worldwide. Its nonviolent protests and civil resistance for equal citizenship under the law enhanced African-Americans’ self-dignity and collective commitment in the face of white supremacist terrorism. Others too, were allies, martyrs and beneficiaries of this undertaking to fulfill the promises America had made on paper since 1776.”


The exhibit’s 24 items on display comprise letters, newsletters, photographs, poetry and reports; special items of interest include:

  • A 1960 NAACP voting rights comic book
  • Alex Haley’s 1963 interview of Malcolm X
  • A 1969 Black Panther Party coloring book
  • A 1976 Julian Bond for President bumper sticker
  • An inscribed copy of Coretta Scott King’s published memoirs


One of the exhibition’s three display cases features the life and career of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., charismatic leader of the Civil Rights Movement and “a drum major for justice and peace” in his letters and publications.


Please stop by for a visit!


On View Now, in Celebration of Martin Luther King Day.

Special Collections faculty member Ervin Jordan has curated an exhibition entitled, “Embracing Equality: Before and Beyond Brown v. Board of Education, 1950-1969: An American Civil Rights Exhibition.”  The exhibit highlights local, state and national Civil Rights events through selected legislation, letters, reports, speeches, and photographs including:

  • the 1950 lawsuit of Gregory Swanson, the University of Virginia’s first African-American student;
  • a printed copy of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education;
  • the 1961 letter of a African-American schoolgirl who complains about desegregation
  • a program and route map for the 1963 March on Washington;
  • a 1964 Martin Luther King letter discussing the Civil Rights Movement’s “non-violent army”
  • UVA administrator William Elwood’s advisory document prepared for a public meeting at a black Charlottesville church on impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 upon public schools

“Embracing Equality” will be on display at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, First Floor Lobby, until March 1, 2013.

March on Washington program and route map, August 28, 1963. (MSS 8003-A, Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)