CINCINNATI — One of late civil rights leader Marian Spencer’s biggest victories in Ohio has been back in the headlines, decades after she made news. Spencer, who was Black, sued Coney Island so that her son could swim in the pool that was limited to whites.

What You Need To Know

  • Late civil rights leader Marian Spencer's victory to integrate Coney Island's Sunlite pool is back in the headlines with news the pool is going to be demolished for a new concert venue

  • Spencer was Cincinnati's first black woman city councilwoman and first female vice mayor

  • The civil rights leader's legacy includes the Marian Spencer Scholarship Program at the University of Cincinnati

With the news last December that Coney Island was sold to the Cincinnati Symphony and that the organization has plans to demolish the pool, some of Spencer’s supporters worry her legacy will be lost to history.

“With the closing of Coney Island, I was very sad,” said Cindy Jones, an administrator at the University of Cincinnati. “I recognize the fight, and since so much of history has been erased, I want to make sure that that history is not erased.”

Jones is doing her part to keep Spencer’s legacy alive as the director of the Marian Spencer Scholarship Program, awarding scholarships for tuition and room and board in the Marian Spencer dorm on campus. 

“In 1938, when Marian Spencer came to UC, Black students could not live on campus. They could not could not go to social events. They had to come to school and leave,” Jones said. “And as a student, Marian used her voice to make this a better, kinder place.”

Jones said Spencer overcame adversity by always keeping it calm and classy.

“Each time that I met Mrs. Spencer, I remember thinking, ‘How could this kind, quiet voice be so powerful?’” she said.

It’s a voice that still echoes on campus, five years after Spencer died at 99.

“She was someone that broke many barriers,” said Muslim Khzir, a Marian Spencer scholar. “She was a powerful person. I always look up to her because without her I wouldn’t be here where I am today.”

 “I know she was a fighter,” said Djeneba Camara, another Spencer scholar. “I know she was brave. I know she was confident because of the things she’s done.”

Creating a legacy that continues to change lives.

“We don’t want her memory to ever be forgotten,” Jones said. “We’re keeping it alive in these students, in everything that we do and everything that I say, reminding them of all of the traits of Marian Spencer, grit, determination, perseverance, all of those things.” 

Besides her work at the university, Spencer was the first Black woman city council member in Cincinnati and the first woman vice mayor.     

“Marian Spencer is an icon, a legend, a giant here in Cincinnati,” said Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval. “Her work on council, her work as an elected official, her work as a civil rights advocate, segregating our various parts of Cincinnati. You know, there’s a reason why she was one of the most recent statues erected here in Cincinnati, because so many folks, whether they worked with her or not, see her as a shining light, a North star to what Cincinnati can be.”