On the Virginia Outpost of the Harlem Renaissance

Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University and The Root tells of the Virginia outpost that helped inspire the artists of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

2 minute read

September 16, 2014, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Henry Louis Gates Jr.—the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University—begins the latest installment of the "Amazing Facts About the Negro" series with a history lesson about demographics of the Harlem Renaissance: "Nearly a century ago, out of the bitter soil of Jim Crow segregation and the First World War, sprang one of the most creative—and socially conscious—artistic flowerings in the history of the United States. The Harlem or 'New Negro' Renaissance of the 1920s was enabled by an unprecedented demographic shift." 

Perhaps less known about the Harlem Renaissance, however, was its broad geographic reach, described in this article by the example of the Virginia home of poet Anne Spencer. "Fertile soil literally nurtured the growth of the poetic branch of the Harlem Renaissance, tended by the movement’s leading African-American female poet, Anne Spencer. Spencer’s enchanting house and garden in Lynchburg, Va., now a landmark museum, was black America’s version of Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. Anybody who was anybody in the black arts and letters scene made a point of stopping by to 'smell the roses' of her hand-crafted artistry instead of the usual foul air of Jim Crow segregated rooming houses and 'hotels.'"

In fact, "From the earth she tilled in central Virginia, and the generous hospitality she offered other black writers lodging in her salon-like home, Spencer encouraged and cultivated some of the Harlem Renaissance’s most profound and enduring poetry, much of it her own."  

According to the article, "Anne and Edward Spencer’s garden home is a site of pilgrimage for writers, including the late Maya Angelou. Edankrall also is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places."

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