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Dunbar’s Birthplace

By Joan Milligan

One hundred and fifty years ago on June 27, a baby boy named Paul was born in Dayton, Ohio, most likely at home, at 311 Howard St. His parents, who were formerly enslaved, certainly must have had high hopes for him. When Paul Laurence Dunbar was 18, he was one of only a handful of students to get a diploma at Dayton’s Central High School, and he was the only Black graduate.

The house he bought after he became a literary success, 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar St., is open to the public as a National Park Service historic site, but you may have wondered where his childhood home was, as it no longer exists. In 2008, the author of posted photos and maps to show its former location. You may pass the spot quite often. The former 300 block of Howard Street was just east of Wayne Avenue. If you are going north to the Oregon District, you will see the red brick Dietz Block building, built in 1886, on the left. Turn right on Bainbridge, and there you’ll find some empty parking lots, with Dayton Towers a little farther east. You’ll arrive at a site where hard work, determination and talent took flight.

A Sesquicentennial Celebration

Several local events are planned to celebrate the writer’s birth. See posts tagged with #Dunbar150 on social media to learn more.

Dunbar and UD

In April 2020, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the University of Dayton nearly $100,000 to develop interdisciplinary courses and create a digital archive to help preserve Dunbar’s legacy. View Dunbar research and the Dunbar Music Archive.

— Joan Milligan is a member of the University Libraries’ diversity and inclusion team and the special collections cataloger. 

Map illustration courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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