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PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR: AN AMERICAN TREASURE

In Dayton, Ohio on June 27th of 1872 Joshua and Matilda Dunbar welcomed a son who they named Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar had both been enslaved in Kentucky and led lives of resilience. Joshua, escaped enslavement to become a soldier in the civil war and Matilda, reunited with her mother, grandmother, and sister; the two settled then met in Dayton.

In the Dunbar household was an emphasis on education. As he learned words, he put them together creatively, often rhythmically and began to write and perform. His earliest performances were at his church, Eaker Street AME where he wrote and performed several holiday speeches. When it was time for school, he attended segregated grade schools, then went to Central High School where he became the editor of the class newspaper, president of the literary club and would eventually write the school song. Paul Laurence Dunbar was the only African American in his class, he was celebrated, being full of charisma and had incredibly advanced abilities that he shared in his writing. Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers was a student in his class. The two collaborated on The Tattler a newspaper written by Paul, geared toward the African American community when he was 18 years old. The Tattler was printed on the Wright's printing press.

Though Paul Laurence Dunbar was gifted, and had been celebrated throughout his life, a shift came when it was time for him to make a living. He was unable to work for a newspaper due to being discriminated against, the resilience that he knew from the lives of his parents became evident in him as he worked as an elevator operator, there he recited and sold his work. He was recognized after speaking at the Western Association of Writers Conference. He met several authors including James Newton Matthews and William Dean Howells his advocates.

His first book, Oak & Iv y was published in 1893. This same year Paul attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He met Frederick Douglass. Douglass became a mentor to Dunbar which opened doors, connecting Dunbar to many prominent black leaders of the time, including Charles Young & James Weldon Johnson. He collaborated with Will Marion Cook on the first musical on Broadway to feature an all-black cast, Clorindy. His connection with Booker T. Washington led to Dunbar writing the Tuskegee University Song.

Dunbar wrote with the tone and punctuation of the patterns of speech that his characters used based off their backgrounds of origin, standard and dialect English. African American Vernacular English was widely reflected in his work. The prevalence of minstrelsy during his time drew attention for some to his unique style of writing, though his work brought dignity as opposed to poking fun at the speech and lifestyles of people.

The themes in his work are vast, 12 books published, 4 novels, volumes of poetry and short stories. His influence remains great years later.

His final home became the first state memorial to honor an African American in 1936. The historic site is on the National Register and operated by the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

Dunbar 150 https://www.nps.gov/daav/planyourvisit/dunbar150.htm

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