FLINT, Michigan -- Since its inception in 1908, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. have been dedicated to leadership and service to all mankind. This network was founded by and for Black women and is made up of more than 300,000 women around the world including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In step with the organization’s national targets, Flint’s local chapter, Zeta Beta Omega, has served Flint for nearly seventy years. During the height of the Flint Water Crisis, Zeta Beta Omega and its 501©3 The Ivy House played a pivotal role in providing bottled water and other resources to Flint residents.
At the very heart of Zeta Beta Omega’s sisterhood is Edith Prunty Spencer. Spencer is a native of Maybeury, West Virginia. She is a graduate of Shaw University—a historically Black institution located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Spencer moved to Flint in 1950 and became a librarian during a time when the role of the librarian was a new concept for public schools.
“I became introduced to the library at Shaw University through work study,” Spencer said. “The schools were just beginning to have librarians, but there were very few librarians. The English teachers oversaw the libraries.”
Spencer completed her studies in 1947 and set out to begin her career. But fate would have its say and shortly thereafter, Edith Prunty met the man who would be her husband—J. Merrill Spencer. She says of the meeting, “He talked me into getting married.”
In the fall of 1948, the two were married and they moved together to Flint where she became the first trained African American librarian in the city. Her husband sought work as a high school teacher in the South, but was not granted the opportunity to teach. As Mrs. Spencer describes it, “Blacks who were hired in education were only being hired in elementary schools.”
As the Spencers began to make Flint their home, Mr. Spencer completed studies in mortuary science. In 1955, the couple opened House of Spencer Mortuary. Mrs. Spencer returned to college to study mortuary science around 1960. After she completed the certificate, Mrs. Spencer returned to work at the Flint Public Library and continued to work alongside her husband at their funeral home. The Spencers proudly served the city of Flint for more than 40 years and retired in 1997.
Edith Prunty Spencer, a charter member of Zeta Beta Omega, was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. in 1944. Spencer’s mother had also been a member of the sisterhood. “Growing up in West Virginia, my mother belonged to the chapter in Bluefield—Zeta Lambda Omega,” she said. “There was something special about the women who were AKAs. They were outstanding teachers and prominent in the community.”
Spencer, along with 18 other women from Flint and Saginaw, chartered the local chapter to bring AKAs principles of sisterhood and service to the local area.
Current chapter president Dellisa Lewis notes the chapter’s scholarship for African Americans students was one of its first major initiatives. The chapter was met with many challenges in establishing the scholarship including discouragement from Flint school personnel who believed Black students didn’t attend college.
“The chapter defeated this challenge and in 1953 awarded its first [$75 dollar scholarship] to a young lady who would later become a member of the chapter,” Lewis said.
The 106-member chapter has held to its commitment to service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The members of Zeta Beta Omega and The Ivy House have donated personal supplies to local organizations including YWCA of Greater Flint and Shelter of Flint. Each year, the members participate in a service project in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s project, a drop-off sock drive, will take place on Monday, January 18, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at 1908 Robert T Longway Blvd. The socks will be donated to local shelters.
Edith Prunty Spencer is looking forward to the event dubbed “Sock It Forward.” “It’s something I think that’s needed,” she said. “We have a really good committee that works on these things and they are attuned to the needs of the community.”
The public is welcome to participate and can contact the chapter via email at [email protected]
Qiana Towns is a community contributor for Flintside as part of our On the Ground neighborhood reporting and engagement series, which is currently being funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation.