New Murals A Window Into Dunbar High School's Past

Jun 5, 2017

A former African-American high school downtown is now decorated in history.

For George Brown, a proud alumnus of the former Dunbar High School and now state representative, gazing at the new murals arrayed on one side of the building is like seeing pieces of the past spring back to life.

"Whenever I talk about this school, it is the original Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, not old. It's the original," he remarks. "There's still spirit in these halls and spirit in this building."

Colorful murals depicting key figures in the history of the original Paul Laurence Dunbar High School pepper the side of the building, now a community center, on June 5, 2017.
Credit Josh James / WUKY

The vibrant colors pop against the aging structure, which now houses a local community center. Fifteen images created by artist Christine Kuhn with backing from LexArts and others depict key figures who guided the school – from its first principal, William Henry Fouse, to celebrated basketball coach S.T. Roach.

Some subjects presented a challenge.

"It wasn't as easy as you might think. Historical pictures of African-Americans, especially when you get back to the 19th century, it wasn't very easy to find them," Kuhn notes.

To spice up the plain images, Kuhn merged the portraits with West African symbols in tune with the subjects being represented.

"For example, Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet, so the symbol behind him is the Adinkra symbol for knowledge," she explains.

Despite the school’s segregated past, Brown remembers a place where students and teachers bucked the trends of the Jim Crow Era and aimed for excellence, something he hopes future generations who come across the murals will rediscover.

"I would hope that they would ask who are these people, and that we would be able to tell the story," he says, "because the young people that come to this place stand on the shoulders of giants."

The original Dunbar High School closed in 1967. The current high school bearing that name opened its doors in 1990.