Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

Historical Significance

All African-American students in Lynchburg attended the Jackson Street High School, founded in 1881. The African-American community petitioned for a new school, and in 1920 the school board agreed to undertake the project. Paul Laurence Dunbar High School opened in 1923, serving Lynchburg's African-American students until 1970.

The faculty at Dunbar High School was primarily white with a curriculum focusing on classical scholarship. Students took four years of English, mathematics, history, science, and Latin which prepared them for entrance into college. As many as 90 percent of students in Dunbar's graduating classes enrolled in college during the 1920s.

As the 1930s progressed, African Americans moved into teaching and administrative roles at Dunbar High School. Clarence Williams Seay became the first African-American principal of the school, serving in that position from 1938 until his retirement in 1968. Under Mr. Seay's leadership, the school continued to excel academically, focusing on meeting the needs of all African-American children in Lynchburg and offering cultural, athletic, and educational community programs. General education and vocational courses were added to the curriculum, leading to increased enrollment and graduation rates. The new curriculum became fully accredited by the 1950s.

Dunbar High School thrived as a community institution well into the 1960s. With the initiative of the Dunbar PTA, new buildings were added including a school library to replace the Dunbar "branch" which, under the leadership of poet and community activist Anne Spencer, received books from Jones Memorial Library. Dunbar graduates went on to prestigious colleges and careers in medicine, law, education, civil service, arts, and athletics. Dunbar teachers counseled many students to seek job opportunities in the northeast, since the city of Lynchburg remained a segregated community.

Virginia resisted desegregation long after the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954. During the early 1960s, African Americans in Lynchburg began to file suit in order to expedite the desegregation process. Dunbar High School was closed in 1970 in order to meet this goal. From 1970- 1976 Dunbar became an integrated middle school for 9th and 10th graders; in 1977 the school became Dunbar Middle School for 6th to 8th grade students.

In January 1994, the school became Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation, a magnet school with an emphasis on foreign language, technology, and communications. 

Physical Description

In 1979 one of the Dunbar High School structures, originally called the North Building and later the East Building, was demolished in 1979. Other original Dunbar High School buildings remain, including West, Mozee, Central and Amelia Pride.  The Central Building bears the Dunbar High School name engraved in stone at its entrance.

Geographical and Contact Information

1200-1208 Polk Street
Lynchburg, Virginia
24505
Phone: 434-522-3740
Fax: 434-522-3727

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Paul Laurence Dunbar High School,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed May 28, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/328.

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