Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition. His parents were freed slaves from Kentucky; though they separated shortly after his birth, he drew on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. During his brief lifetime, he published eight poetry collections, a novel, and a book of short stories. His work had a profound effect on countless poets—Langston Hughes called Dunbar one of his primary influences, and Maya Angelou took the last line Dunbar’s poem "Sympathy" as the title for one of her most famous books: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
The Dunbar House was the poet's final home. He lived in the Italianate turn-of-the-century house with his mother until his death from tuberculosis in 1906. His mother remained in the house and preserved his belongings until her own death in 1934. In 1936, the house was designated a state memorial, the first to honor an African American. The house is also a part of the National Park’s Service’s Dayton Aviation Heritage Trail, which commemorates Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. (While in high school Dunbar edited the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived black newspaper published by his classmate Orville Wright.)
The house, located at 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, exhibits Dunbar’s literary possessions, personal items, and family furniture. After a complete renovation in the early 2000s, the furnishings and interior were restored to the period of Dunbar's lifetime. The Dunbar House is open to the public for tours. Visit the Ohio Historical Society website for hours, admission fees, and more information.