01 Feb Brand New Marian A. Spencer Statue Coming to John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park this Spring
Cincinnati Parks is known for its beautiful greenspaces throughout our city. As you may have noticed, many parks boast statues highlighting fictional and non-fictional characters. They include past presidents, World War I and II memorials, Shawnee intertribal leader, Rome’s Capitoline’s wolf and more. But there is something critically missing from this list – a statue of a named woman. Regrettably, no Cincinnati Park has a statue of a real woman in it, but this is about to change.
Our very own John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park will soon proudly display a brand new statue of Marian A. Spencer, the very first named woman statue in the City of Cincinnati. We are more than excited Marian Spencer and all she stood for will live on in our park. Throughout her life, Spencer broke barriers and fought for civil rights in Cincinnati. She left behind a legacy of representing the voiceless and breaking barriers. Friends referred to her as “Ms. Civil Rights,” a truly ideal name for a remarkable woman who accomplished so much throughout her lifetime.
Mrs. Spencer was truly ahead of her time. She and her husband, Donald A. Spencer, worked alongside each other and separately for 70 years to overcome racial challenges throughout the 20th century.
For starters, she was responsible for the desegregation of Coney Island, YWCA summer camps, and pools nationwide. And she did so almost a decade before the US civil rights movement began. She was the first African American woman to be elected president of the Cincinnati chapter NAACP, to Cincinnati City Council where she soon served as vice mayor. Marian A. Spencer spent a lifetime serving the community and her work did not go unnoticed. She received numerous awards and honors, including the Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year Award; Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews; YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award; and Humanitarian Award, Freedom Heritage Foundation of Columbus, Ohio.
This statue would not be possible without the vision, dedication and drive of The Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati who raised a remarkable $162,000 (mostly small donations from individuals who knew Marian) to erect this statue in the John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park. The statue will be placed in the Cincinnati Parks Foundation Women’s Committee Garden. Mrs. Spencer was a founding Women’s Committee member.
Marian Spencer was also the first African American president of The Woman’s City Club in 1970. Alice Schneider, Woman’s City Club member and chair of the Marian Spencer Statue Committee, stated, “She was certainly a strong leader. We wanted to showcase her contributions to Cincinnati by having a statue. There was no statue of a named woman in Cincinnati, so we wanted a statue of a woman who would exemplify the virtues and issues of the city and be an example to show young people how to get things accomplished.”
The sculpture was designed by Cincinnati Natives, Tom Tsuchiya and Gina Erardi. Tom is best known for bronze sculptures for Major League Baseball and the National Football League including some of his most notable work, the Reds Legends of Crosley Field. He is no stranger to molding the faces of our greatest people from clay. “As a person of color, this statue is very special to me because it opened up opportunities for people of color and just someone who made changes through peaceful means, it’s very special personally,” Tom said.
The sculpture displays Mrs. Spencer holding the hands of two young children, a boy and a girl. Her other hand is open enabling her to receive the hands of generations of park visitors. The interactivity of the statue was a conscious design choice, and is amongst the very first interactive statues in the city.
Cincinnati leaders are excited to see this statue come to life, including Cincinnati Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney who knew Mrs. Spencer personally. “Her attitude was a can do and a can do with a smile. She was a real fighter, but at the same time the most loving, caring and pleasant person you can ever meet. And so, she really believed in justice and her whole life was about fighting for justice. But she did it in a way that made people love her and really want to work with her,” Kearney recalled.
Cincinnati Park Board Commissioner Linda Thomas reflected that, “When I think about parks and what our mission is, it’s about education, and the presence of this amazing woman will allow people to be educated about who she is and the difference she made for people in our community, for African Americans, old and young, and for people in general. I think she’s just going to be a beacon of education for us and we’re delighted to be a part of that here at parks.”
The Marian A. Spencer statue will be installed at Smale Riverfront Park this spring. We are excited to have such an iconic woman represented in Cincinnati Parks. Be sure to check back for updates.