Important figure in CIU history now with the Lord

Peter Spencer in CIU's Shortess Chapel in 2013
February 10, 2020

Jamaican Peter Spencer was first CIU student of African descent

By Bob Holmes

When Peter Spencer enrolled at Columbia Bible College (CBC) in 1963, he made history. Spencer was black. His admission to CBC, now Columbia International University, made CIU the first institution of higher education in South Carolina to admit a black student voluntarily.

Spencer died at his home in Jamaica on Feb. 9 after a short battle with cancer. He was 80 years old.

Spencer attended CIU from 1963-1965 for graduate studies. As the federal government began to mandate the integration of Southern public colleges in the 1960s, the CIU Board of Trustees was already grappling with the issue. According the book, “This Side of Heaven – Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith” by Robert J. Priest and Alvaro L. Nieves, the board voted in March 1963 that “in the future no one be refused admission to the Bible College on the basis of race solely.”

After Spencer enrolled, CIU President Dr. G. Allen Fleece reported to the board of trustees, “Peter Spencer from Jamaica, had the highest recommendation and has proven to be everything we could desire.”

Spencer would go on to become a pastor and missionary statesman in his home country for over 50 years.

In 2013, he received the Kingdom Impact Award from CIU and was the featured speaker that year during Black History Week. In an interview during his return to Columbia, Spencer said he got along “splendidly” with his fellow CIU students, but there was “a little tension at first.”

“But even those who may have had some reservations at the beginning became my best friends,” Spencer recalled.

It was different for Spencer off campus. At first, he had no place to worship on Sunday mornings because the white churches with whom CIU had a relationship would not accept him. Nor could he join the travelling Ambassador Choir because his color would have kept him out of some venues.

Etched in his memory was the day he went to town with his white classmates and was refused service at a restaurant being told, “We don’t serve your kind here.” His classmates tried to intervene to no avail. So they ordered for him and they ate in the car.

Spencer, who was not discriminated against in Jamaica, called that experience, “shocking, humiliating. I felt insulted.”

In his Chapel address to the CIU student body, Spencer said, "These experiences were allowed by God to mold me and to make me strong to face the challenges of life, so I am grateful."          

A service of thanksgiving for Peter Spencer will be on Feb. 18 in Jamaica. An online condolence book is at CONDOLENCE BOOK FOR REV. PETER SPENCER.