Recently, the LYH Museum hosted walking tours of Dunbar High School, highlighting its historic and integral part of our community’s history. The former campus of the high school represents how the desire for education has shaped African American communities both past and present; the walking tour provided the opportunity to learn the history of LYH’s all-Black high school and to see the innovative middle school it is today. It also shared insights into the life and legacy of the school’s namesake, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
As mentioned, Dunbar High School was the all-Black high school in LYH. On May 17, 1954, The Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas). This unanimous decision declared all laws establishing racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, stating that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” One year later, in the “Brown II” ruling of 1955, the Court ordered desegregation of schools to occur “with all deliberate speed.” However, even with this ruling, LYH was slow to adopt the new laws and did not begin to integrate until the early 1960s. Local action was prompted by a pending lawsuit from community members requesting that Lynchburg implement the Brown v. Board decision.
The first act of desegregation in Lynchburg finally happened on January 29, 1962, when two students from the all-Black Dunbar High School, Lynda Woodruff and Owen Cardwell, Jr., began attending the all-white E.C. Glass High School. The next two Black students from Dunbar to integrate E.C. Glass High School, Cecelia Jackson and Brenda Hughes, did so the following school year on October 22, 1962.
Following these historic first steps, the Lynchburg City school board’s “Desegregation Committee” developed a plan for very gradual integration of the entire school system over several years; this integration was considered finished in 1970. Beginning in that school year all students spent their 9th and 10th grades at Dunbar and 11th and 12th grades at Glass.
The old Dunbar High School (“North Building”) was demolished in the summer of 1979. By that time Heritage High School had been built, and the old Dunbar North Building needed major renovations that were considered too expensive.
Stepping Into the Future
Over the years, the school transitioned into a middle school and in 1994, the old Dunbar High School was reestablished as the Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation. Named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, a renowned African-American poet and pioneer in his day, today, Dunbar Middle School is a pillar of the LYH community. Students of all races and backgrounds receive a cutting-edge, competitive education – together.
To read more, visit the Lynchburg City Schools page HERE.
The Dunbar Walking Tours will resume again once warmer weather returns in 2022. Tours are free, but reservations are required. Call 434-455-6226 or visit lynchburgmuseum.org to learn more.