Marian Spencer’s Sculpture Is Unveiled on the Riverfront

Her son, Edward, shared a poem he’d written about her trailblazing life at last weekend’s dedication.

A bronze statue of Marian Spencer was unveiled on June 27 in Smale Riverfront Park downtown. Situated in the shadow of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and overlooking the river that marked the boundary between the North and the South, the statue holds a place of purpose and meaning that’s in keeping with the life it immortalizes.

Marian Spencer’s sculpture is unveiled June 27 at Smale Riverfront Park. Her son Edward (far left, back to the camera) spoke at the dedication.

Photograph courtesy Cincinnati Parks

Best known for integrating Coney Island and Cincinnati Public Schools, Spencer is also remembered for her many firsts: the first African American woman to serve as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP, the first African American city councilwoman, and now the first named woman to be represented in sculpture in Cincinnati. (There are more than 100 statues of men.) Designed by Tom Tsuchiya and Gina Erardi, the sculpture features Spencer with two children, holding hands.

Edward Spencer, Marian’s son, flew from California to speak at the dedication, despite concerns about the pandemic. “Blood brought me here,” he told the audience. He shared that the last time he spoke with his mother, shortly before the stroke that led to her death in July 2019, she told him in a “dragon voice,” “You don’t owe anything to anybody.”

He said he didn’t understand what she meant and never had a chance to ask, and then he reflected on her life, saying Marian lived with a fiery purpose that got things done and aligned her agency with intention. Edward wrote the poem “no need” a month after his mother’s death and read it at the statue’s dedication, on what would have been her 101st birthday. It’s published here with his permission.

“no need”

no expiation required
no need for apology nor forgiveness
when you’re on purpose

when you’re on purpose
you don’t owe anything to anybody

when this is understood
you are no longer accessible by shaming
no longer susceptible to guilt

no more mea culpas
nor seeking acceptance or belonging because
you are already at home in yourself
in integrity
aligned with Intent

 

so there’s no need

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