Robyn C. Spencer is a historian that focuses on Black 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.
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, on gender and the organizational evolution of the Black Panther Party in Oakland was published by Duke University Press in November 2016. The book was a finalist for the “Benjamin Hooks Institute National Book Award” sponsored by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis and received Honorable Mention for the Letitia Woods Brown Book Prize sponsored by the Association of Black Women’s Historians.
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 explores how and why the anti-imperialist struggle for Vietnamese independence became a rallying point for U.S.-based Black activists who were part of the freedom movement of the 1950s–1970s. In many ways, it continues her emphasis on exploring overlapping and intersecting boundaries between social protest movements. In 2018 she was awarded a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to support work on this project. 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 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. 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." She has contributed essays connecting history to current events to The Washington Post, Black Youth Project Blog, Vibe Magazine, Colorlines and the African American Intellectual History Society.