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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
1920 – 2019
Marian Spencer is a fighter.
The granddaughter of a freed slave, Spencer was a champion of human rights from the time she and her twin sister Millie arrived on the campus of the University of Cincinnati as scholarship students in 1938.
While at UC, Spencer campaigned for the college prom to be open to all students. That was the start of her lifelong quest for equality for all Greater Cincinnatians.
“All people should be equal,” she said. “There should be equality, above everything. Given equal opportunity, we all arrive at the same place.”
A native of Gallipolis, Ohio, Spencer has been an activist for five decades. Known for her fierce determination, she took Coney Island management to court after being banished from the front gate by a guard brandishing a gun on the Fourth of July, 1952.
In addition to successfully integrating Coney Island and the YWCA, she was the first African-American elected to Cincinnati City Council (1983); the first and only woman elected president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP (1980-82); and the first African-American elected president of the Woman’s City Club (1972-73).
Her other career highlights include being named Enquirer Woman of the Year, 1972; a term as president of Cincinnati Chapter of Links Inc.; and being named a Lifetime Achiever by Applause! magazine.
Still active into her ’90s, Spencer co-chaired the YWCA’s $3.8-million fund-raising campaign.
“Without difficulties that people met and overcome, we are less strong,” Spencer said. “We’ve had our share.”
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization