The Pierce Street Renaissance Historic District
November 30, 2021

The photo associated with this Blog on the home page is of Arthur Ashe and Dr. Robert Walter Johnson.

The Pierce Street Renaissance Historic District is only two blocks long and is not known for its architecture but for the people who live here. The National Register determined that these properties are associated with the lives of significant persons that affected our history. The district provided many generations of notable men and women in the African-American community who contributed much to Lynchburg’s cultural and educational history and nationally in education, literature, aviation, sports, and medicine.

Anne Spencer was a Harlem Renaissance poet who lived at 1313 Pierce Street, but she remained in Lynchburg, Virginia and the Harlem Renaissance came to her. Anne and Edward Spencer opened their home to many Harlem Renaissance travelers because blacks could not stay in local hotels. Some of her guests included: W.E.D. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, (the Secretary of the NAACP), Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Anne Spencer was the first Virginian to be published in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Chauncey Spencer, son of Anne Spencer, was one of the first members of the National Airmen Association, later known as the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1939, he and Dale Lawrence White flew a bi-plane on a 10-city tour in Chicago and ended in Washington, D.C. The Spencer-White flight convinced Congress to allow blacks in the pre-war World War II Civilian Pilot Training Program. He would later move back to Lynchburg on 1306 Pierce Street.

Edward Trigg lived at 1422 Pierce Street; he was born a slave but became the first minority to become the president of two nationally acclaimed universities. Dr. Robert Walter Johnson also lived at 1422 Pierce Street. He was the first minority physician granted practice rights at Lynchburg General Hospital. In addition, he built a clay court on his property and mentored tennis greats, Althea Gibson the first African-American woman tennis player, and 3-time Grand Slam Champion, Arthur Ashe. Dr. Johnson brought desegregation to the sport of tennis. He started the American Tennis Association Junior Development Program for African-American youth.

Clarence “Dick” Seay was the long-term principal of Dunbar High School, which became the cultural center of African-American life in Lynchburg for much of the 20th century. He was also a two-term city council member, the first African-American Vice-Mayor, and the Virginia State Teacher’s Association president.

These black leaders had a profound effect on the history of Lynchburg and our nation. For more information, see the links below.