Robyn C. Spencer is a historian whose research centers on social protest after World War II, urban and working-class radicalism, and gender. She teaches survey and seminar courses on African American Heritage, Civil rights and Black Power and Black women’s history in the US as an Associate Professor of History at Lehman College, City University of New York.
Since she began studying social movements as an undergraduate history major at SUNY Binghamton, Professor Spencer’s inspiration has come from the examples of those who made often incalculable sacrifice to fight injustice, racism, and sexism. Her masters essay entitled “Contested Terrain: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the Struggle to Control Black Labor” explored the impact of the Mississippi Flood of 1927 on almost 300,000 displaced African Americans. This research, which was published in the Journal of Negro History (Vol. 79, No. 2 Spring, 1994), was featured in the documentary “When Weather Changed History,” which aired on the Weather Channel on March 9, 2008 at 9pm EST. Her writings on the Black Panther Party have appeared in The Journal of Women’s History, Souls, Radical Teacher and several collections of essays on the 1960s. Spencer’s article “Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle: Revolutionary Black Womanhood and the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area, California” was published in the Journal of Women’s History (Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2008) and awarded the 2008 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Article Prize by the Association of Black Women Historians. Her book The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, analyzes the organizational evolution of the Black Panther Party in Oakland and was published by Duke University Press in December 2016.
In 2016-17 she received a Mellon fellowship at Yale University to work on her second book project, To Build the World Anew: Black Liberation Politics and the Movement Against the Vietnam War. This project examines how working class African Americans’ anti-imperialist consciousness in the 1950s-1970s shaped their engagement with the movement against the Vietnam War. In many ways, it continues her emphasis on exploring overlapping and intersecting boundaries between social protest movements. She is also working on a short biography of Angela Davis for Westview Press’ Lives of American women series.
Professor Spencer is a committed activist and participates in many community education initiatives aimed at bringing the history of the Black Power movement to community based spaces. Through writing, teaching and public presentations, she aims to educate others about the contributions of urban, working-class African Americans, especially women, to the Black freedom movement. She has presented her work at close to a dozen universities, several correctional institutions in Pennsylvania and k-12 classrooms in the Bronx. She has also participated in seminars aimed at educating high school teachers about the latest interpretive trends in her field and partnered with the New York Public Library to work on public events preserving local history in Astoria, Queens. In 2016 she served as one of the co-editors of the Radical Teacher special Issue on “Teaching Black Lives Matter.”