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. She is part of the corsortial faculty in the History Department at the CUNY Graduate Center and is an affiliate faculty with the American Studies Program. In 2018-2019 she is Visiting Endowed Chair in Women and Gender Studies and Visiting Associate Professor of History at Brooklyn College (BC). At BC she created “Challenging Erasures: Reinscribing Black women’s history in New York,” an interdisciplinary series that engages the campus in the collective examination of race and gender as it intersects around issues of gentrification and displacement; police violence and historical memory; radical grassroots organizing; and artistic production.
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 first 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 2020-2021 work on this project will be supported by an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science. She is also working on two biographies: Yours for the Struggle: Patricia Robinson and the Archive of Black women’s radicalism and a biography of Angela Davis.
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 to over two 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; partnered with the New York Public Library to work on public events preserving local history in Astoria, Queens and worked with the NYS Department of Education on professional development on women’s history. She served as one of the co-editors of the Radical Teacher special Issue on “Teaching Black Lives Matter” in 2016 and is co-editing a special issue of Meridians journal titled “Radical Transnationalism: Reimagining Solidarities, Violence, Empires” that will be published in 2019.
Dr. Spencer has contributed essays connecting history to current events to The Washington Post, Black Youth Project blog, Vibe Magazine, Colorlines, Truthout, Ms. Magazine blog, Zinn Education Project blog, Duke University Press blog and Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society. She appeared on “Democracy Now,” in March 1, 2018 after one of her self-published blog posts “Black Feminist Meditations on the Women of Wakanda” went viral.