I was driving on 31st Street the other day and looked to the right to see the new sculpture of Paul Laurence Dunbar in Dunbar Park. I knew that there had been a recent dedication of the statue and there it was, awaiting my attention. I vowed to come back and take pictures and share this new gem on my blog.
It sits behind the high school of the same name where the famed singer, Jennifer Hudson attended. When I think of this great poet, I think of the poem, We Wear the Mask. I quote it often because it speaks to me when I feel that people are not being honest with me. I also knew that he wrote in dialect and lived a short life.
So, after a little fact checking, I discovered that he was born to freed slaves from Kentucky and he was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872. I also learned that he was the only African-American at his high school where he became the President of the Literacy Society. His first poems were published at the age of 16, and he also wrote lyrics. He became nationally known and was recognized by author William Dean Howell (Wikipedia).
On the next day, I drove over to the actual statue. It stands about six feet tall and was sculpted by Deborah Hand with the assistance of her son, Brian. “In March 2012, Deborah Hand, who was assisted by her son, Brian, was selected to create and complete the statue. According to Mr. Hand, they were selected after submitting an application as part of an open call for artists.
Mr. Hand estimates that the statue of Dunbar weighs between two to three tons, cost an estimated $80,000 in materials to create, stands a total of nine feet tall when mounted on a granite slab, and was completed in about 20 months.” (Edwards, Lee. Paul Laurence Dunbar Statue Unveiled at Dunbar Park, Weekly Citizen-Sept 10, 2014)
The inscription on the statue tells us that Paul Laurence Dunbar met Frederick Douglass during his lifetime and was invited to read poetry at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. I did not know that he had read at the Expo. After teaching eighth graders about the meaning of the four red stars on the Chicago flag, this piqued my interest. The third star symbolizes the World Columbian Expo of 1893 and the actual Expo took place a short distance away from where the statue stands.
The inscription also says that he edited a newspaper owned by the aviator Orville Wright. Though Dunbar died of tuberculosis at the young age of 31 in 1906, his life touched the lives of greats such as Orville Wright, Frederick Douglass and William Dean Howells. We still honor and quote his works today and I am happy to witness this magnificent addition to the city’s landscape.
Lynn October 11, 2014