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Berea College Special Collections and Archives

Dunbar's Kentucky and Berea Connections

Did Paul Laurence Dunbar have connections to Kentucky?

Did he have any ties to Berea College?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Paul Laurence Dunbar had direect family ties to Kentucky. Both of his parents, Joshua Dunbar (circa 1823 - 1885) and Matilda Jane Dunbar (1845 - 1934), were born enslaved in the commonwealth. Joshua Dunbar was a skilled plasterer who escaped to Canada through the Undergound Railroad. In 1863 he returned to the United States to fight for freedom in the Civil War. Sargeant Dunbar died at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1885 and was buried in the Dayton National Cemetery.

Matilda Jane Burton Murphy Dunbar was born in Shelby County where she worked as a domestic servant. Upon emancipation in 1866, she went to Dayton, Ohio to live with her mother. Matilda's marriage to Joshua Dunbar lasted only from 1871 to 1876. They had two children, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 - 1906) and Elizabeth Florence Dunbar (1873 - 1876). Matilda Dunbar died in Dayton in 1934 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery near her famous son.

For evidence of at least a small connection to Berea College, see the Letter to Ida Louise Brooks in this exhibit. Dunbar was aware of Berea College. He is not known to have visited the campus.

Dunbar's Kentucky and Berea Connections