1975 US postage stamp

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Major National Poet from Ohio

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton was the home of Black poet and lyricist Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and is open to the public on weekends, except on major holidays. According to the Ohio History Center, the Dunbar House, at 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, is the first memorial the state of Ohio designated to honor African-American history. (Dayton has a population nearly twice the number of residents as those who lived there in Paul Dunbar’s day.)

Best Website

The best website we found about Dunbar is the University of Dayton’s at https://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar. It lets you jump easily from one work of his to another, page to page, see whatever you select in full text, and even listen to ones with sound, recorded and spoken by a professor at the University of Dayton.

With or without sound, the words live on today, capturing the era of the son of freed enslaved persons, a friend of Frederick Douglass, and the young man who became a published poet at the age of 14. Once published, he influenced a wide range of writers from Langston Hughes to Maya Angelou. Though he passed away at a young age, his impact on the national conscience on matters of racial justice has never subsided.

One of his best-known poems is We Wear The Mask (1895).

“..we wear the mask that grins and lies,
it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes
this debt we pay to human guile;
with torn and bleeding hearts we smile.”
— Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar’s wife, who divorced him, was also a poet. Read about her here: Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson in Delaware.

His Influencers and Influence

Read more about Frederick Douglass here: Frederick Douglass House in DC.

Read about Langston Hughes in Ohio here: Langston Hughes in Ohio.

Read about Maya Angelou here: Maya Angelou in Arkansas.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is the third stop on our Ohio Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart