The Dunbar Story: A Community Commitment
Although it had been a “community” school in the usual sense of the term from the time of its organization in 1925, the Paul Laurence Dunbar Community High School for Health Professions began its evolution in the direction toward a unique, modern concept in 1965. In this crisis year, the people of the Dunbar Community initiated the changes that were to constitute a true educational innovation and a new kind of school-community union.
The Dunbar Story is significantly related to a small land area of inner-city East Baltimore, encompassing six blocks, or about 10 acres. Originally, this superblock was solidly occupied by small homes, with an elementary school at its northeast corner. It was constructed for $5,000 in 1855. In 1915, the building was moved 75 feet to make way for a new school. The decision to move a two-story, six-classroom brick school building, which had been condemned 10 years earlier, must have been some cause for wonderment in the community. It may have served to illustrate an approach to school facility needs that had prevailed for too long and which was to be repeated too often in the future. The modern Dunbar is the product of community dissatisfaction generated by minimal and makeshift responses to educational needs, particularly in Black neighborhoods.
The new building was fine but had to be won by determined community action, organized in particular by the Colored Citizen’s Equitable Improvement Association of East Baltimore. It was dedicated in 1918 as the Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School No. 101, in memory of the “The Poet of the Negro Race” who had died 10 years earlier in his native Ohio. Baltimore has not been alone in honoring Paul Laurence Dunbar in this manner. In our case, the dedication began a proud tradition.
In 1925, a secondary school program budded out from the elementary school, and a separate entity was established as the Dunbar Junior High School #133 in 1932. A future senior high school program was authorized, and the first diplomas were finally awarded in 1940. During this evolution from elementary to junior-senior high school, many physical changes took place within the superblock. Several fine educational buildings were provided, namely the Dunbar Junior-Senior High School, with two annexes, and Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School No. 102. The old Dunbar Elementary School No. 101 had been phased out and demolished under pressure from the growing needs at the secondary level.
Yet, it seemed to the community that these needs were not being promptly and adequately met. Such measures as double shifts, “portables” and a remote annex created dissatisfaction. Maintenance and supplies were obviously inadequate, and there was complete lack of outdoor athletic facilities. There was a growing community awareness that a new Dunbar High School building was needed.
The Baltimore City Public Schools administration proposed a solution, which the community could not bring itself to accept. A site for a very large new senior high school had been acquired in Clifton Park, 1½ miles to the north of Dunbar, essentially new land created by filling in the bed of an abandoned reservoir. There were a number of advantages in such a location. The building could be expansive, avoiding multilevels, and complete athletic facilities could be provided. The environment was open and pleasant. Land cost was considerably less than in the inner city, where acquisition was also a hardship for the residents and businesspeople.
Dunbar High School moved to its present location, at 1400 Orleans St., as a result of planning by community members in 1974.