Join me as I visit the sites in the Ohio History Connection network! This month's road trip took me to the Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton and the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce.
This month’s road trip was a great reminder that there’s always something new to learn with an Ohio History Connection membership. I grew up in the Dayton area, but had never been to the Paul Laurence Dunbar House or the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in nearby Wilberforce. I learned a lot about my hometown, as well as about Ohio and U.S. history through the lens of the African American experience.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of America's greatest poets, spent almost his entire life in Ohio. He published hundred of poems, as well as novels, short stories and song lyrics. He is considered one of the most important figures in African American and American history, in the company of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and his Dayton neighbors, Orville and Wilbur Wright. The turn-of-the-20th-century house exhibits Dunbar's literary treasures, many of his personal items and his family's furnishings. A project completed in 2003 returned the Dunbar house to its appearance at the time when Paul and his mother, Matilda, lived there. Paul lived in the house from 1904 until he died in 1906; his mother lived there from 1904 until she died in 1934. An on-site visitor center features panels telling the story of Paul's life and times.
The National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (NAAMCC) features thought-provoking exhibits such as African Americans Fighting for a Double Victory; Behind the Mask: Black Power in Comics; Queens of the Heartland; Rhythm of Revolution-The Transformative Power of Black Art 1619 to Present and What’s In Your Attic? Selections From Our Permanent Collection.
Address: The Paul Laurence Dunbar Visitor’s Center is located at 219 North Paul Laurence Dunbar Street in Dayton. You’ll want to start your visit here. The actual Dunbar House is right next door, but you’ll need to have a staff member with you for a tour.
The National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center’s address is 1350 Brush Row Road in Wilberforce, on the campus of Central State University.
How much time: I would plan about 60-90 minutes at the Dunbar House. At the Visitor’s Center, you’ll be able to watch an 18-minute movie about Dunbar’s life and times and check out the exhibits. Talk to one of the staff members at the front desk to arrange for a tour of the actual Dunbar House.
To really explore the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center, I would budget two hours. There’s a lot to see and you don’t want to rush through the thoughtfully curated exhibits.
My favorites: I loved the tour of the Dunbar house. The home is set up to look like it did when Paul and his mother Matilda were living there. Climbing the narrow steps to the second floor, seeing Paul’s room and his typewriter, and learning that Paul had a little room at the back of the property that he would escape to when there were too many people in the house really brought his story to life.
I was really taken with the Queens of the Heartland exhibit at NAAMCC. It features stories of 30 Ohio African American women who played a significant role in the Suffrage and Civil Rights Movements. It’s a really powerful and—and thanks to the gorgeous portraits of each woman by artist Nichole Washington—joyful experience
Truda's Tips: I highly recommend visiting both of these sites sooner rather than later. A recent exhibit about Dunbar’s life and times, “Paul Laurence Dunbar: Diamond of the Gem City,” will be on display through the first week of January. You can learn more about the exhibit by watching this recording of a conversation I had with the curators, Hadley Drodge and Derek Pridemore (who are curators at NAAMCC).
The Art of Soul! Juried Art Show at NAAMCC will be on display through February 25, 2023. You really don’t want to miss it. The artwork is absolutely incredible and many of the artists are from Ohio.
Kid Friendly? For Elementary-School Aged Kids and Older: The Dunbar House tour would be a great way to let kids see what it would have been like to live during the early 1900s. However, there are steep stairs that might be hard for little legs to navigate. Additionally, the objects in the house are arranged so that visitors can see how the Dunbars lived, but they are not to be touched. This could be a challenge for very young kids.
At NAAMCC, the curators draw on the Ohio Education Standards in their content and then have a few tricks up their sleeves to make the exhibits engaging to kids. For example, the design of the Queens of the Heartland exhibit was inspired by social media: the panels look like Instagram selfies, each movement is represented by a custom emoji and the quotes are represented as tweets. In the African Americans Fighting for a Double Victory exhibit, younger kids can dress up in the uniforms of different wartime occupations, learn about rationing and take selfies with protest signs. And the What’s In Your Attic? exhibit has a kids’ track that is displayed lower to the ground where grade-schoolers can learn a bit of the Shawnee and Myaamia languages, play a “Where’s Waldo” style game and read questions aimed at their age group.
Lunch: As a Dayton girl, I was just as excited about the opportunity to relive some of my personal history as I was about visiting our awesome sites. I decided to eat like I was in high school and go to Marion’s Piazza for lunch. You can also get sandwiches, pasta and salads there. And I’m sure they’re great, but I’ve never had them because of my deep love for the sausage pizza. I would heartily recommend getting a bag of Mikesell’s potato chips-another of my favorite Dayton foods-to go with whatever you order. Marion’s has nine locations around Dayton, but the Beavercreek location is on the way if you’re driving from the Dunbar House to NAAMCC.
And, if you’re driving from NAAMCC to Central Ohio, it’s easy to make a stop at Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs for all of your ice cream and cheese curd-based needs. I’m partial to the Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor—rich chocolate ice cream with big swirls of peanut butter. But really, there are no bad flavors. I’ve been going to Young’s since I was a baby and it’s become a family tradition. My daughter had her first ice cream there! If you’re looking for more than ice cream, Young’s has putt-putt golf, barn tours, batting cages, a full restaurant menu and more (check their website for opening dates and times). Honestly, it’s a destination in itself. My family often stops by on our way home to Columbus from visiting family in Dayton. I’m not above having ice cream for dinner when the opportunity arises.
Get bundled up and head out to one of these Ohio History Connection sites this winter to get out of the house and get a new perspective on our state’s incredible natural history.