A Cincinnati Civil Rights Activist
Born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1920, Marian Alexander graduated as a co-valedictorian of Gallia Academy School in 1938. Upon graduation, Alexander enrolled in the University of Cincinnati and became active on campus with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. While a student at UC, Marian met and fell in love with Donald Spencer. The couple married in 1940, but Marian continued her studies and earned a degree in English Literature in 1942. She gave birth to two children, Donald and Edward Spencer.
Marian began her public fight for civil rights in 1952 when she led the desegregation effort at Cincinnati’s Coney Island Amusement Park. Her children, after hearing an ad for an event in the park, asked their mother if they could attend. Spencer called Coney Island to inquire about the event and whether or not it was open to all children. After a representative of the park admitted that the event was not open to black children, Spencer took action. She went with her children to Coney Island and, after being turned away by an armed guard, filed a lawsuit against the park with the help of the NAACP. Spencer led a biracial team of 28 witnesses to victory in the case and desegregated the park.
Throughout the rest of her life, Spencer dedicated herself to civil rights activism and racial equality in Cincinnati. For over twenty years, Marian chaired the Cincinnati NAACP Education committee, working to end racial isolation in schools and to achieve educational equity. She led the NAACP of Cincinnati as Chapter President from 1980-1982, becoming the first woman to hold the position. Spencer won election as the first African American woman on the Cincinnati City Council in 1983 and also served the city as Vice Mayor. She represented the Ohio Democratic Party at their 1984 and 1988 national conventions. Other notable organizations Spencer worked with included the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Ohio Advisory Board, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Planned Parenthood, and the Cincinnati Human Services Task Force.
In her fight for equal rights, Marian had the assistance and support of her husband and fellow civil rights activist, Donald Spencer. Donald began a singing and theatrical group for African American students at UC (the Quadres) during the 1930s. At that time, most student activities at the university were segregated, and Donald sought to fulfill a need for African American student engagement. He worked as a teacher in Cincinnati schools and later as a real estate broker/developer. Donald held leadership positions on the Avondale Community Council, the Cincinnati NAACP, and with Cincinnati Parks.
Marian’s accomplishments and efforts in the community earned her the Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Woman of the Year Award” in 1972. The Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce named Spencer a “Great Living Cincinnatian” in 1998, and the city government currently honors Spencer’s contributions through the downtown street named for her, Marian Spencer Way.