February 9 - If Death Should Claim Me for Her Own Today

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On February 9, 1906, Paul Laurence Dunbar died in Dayton at age 33.

Dunbar Paul Laurence, Feb 9, phthisis pulmonalis.

City of Dayton death records, 1900 - 1908.  Page 57, Line 23.  Montgomery County, Ohio, Records Center and Archives.

In a large handwritten index, Paul's cause of death was given as "phthisis pulmonalis," which refers to tuberculosis of the lungs and a wasting away of the body.

Paul Laurence Dunbar's death record

Dayton, Ohio, February 9 - Paul Laurence Dunbar, Negro poet and author, died here tonight.  He was born at Dayton, Ohio, on June 27, 1872, and educated in the public schools.  By private study he made up for loss of a college education.  On graduation he made a living for his mother and himself, his father having died, by writing for the local papers and contributing to the Eastern magazines.  His first book, "The Oak and Ivy," was published in 1893.  The first edition of his second book, "Majors and Minors," was nearly exhausted, when a review by William Dean Howells introduced Mr. Dunbar as "the first black man to feel the life of the Negro aesthetically and to express it lyrically."  From that time he wrote two books each year up to 1899, except 1897.  On March 6, 1898, he married Alice Ruth Moore, a teacher in one of the public schools of Brooklyn.

"Paul L. Dunbar Dead."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  February 10, 1906.  Page 1.

Shortly afterward, a resident of Dayton sent an account of Paul's final moments to his estranged wife Alice Moore Dunbar in Wilmington, Delaware.

Paul['s] death was a sad shock to us all and to [the] city of Dayton and to the world.  But so closely knowing him and his long suffering, which was intense, the dear boy is much better off.  He died so peaceful and was conscious until just ten minutes before he breathed his last breath.  These were his last words.  He said to his mother he was going.  She in her sorrow begged him not to go away from her.  He said, "I have made a brave fight and now the Lord's will be done."  He says, "I am not suffering.  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."  These were his last words.  He was a most beautiful corpse, looked just as if he was peacefully sleeping.  In all of his suffering he never changed in the least in the face, but in his body he had fallen away and was very tiny and frail.

John H. Finley to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 17, 1906.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul's mother Matilda had cared for him during his long illness, and she was with him when he died.  After Paul's death, Matilda's grief was extreme.

Mrs. Matilda Dunbar, her heart filled with an unutterable sorrow, was beside her much-loved son at the last.  The mother's grief was pitiable in the extreme Friday afternoon.  With the natural impulsiveness of her race she paced screaming through the rooms, mourning in a wild shrill manner that bore traces of her race's previous customs.  Her gifted son's typewriter, on which so many of his beautiful compositions had been prepared, was the source of inconsolable grief to her and she spent hours before it, moaning and crying while the hot tears seared her aged eyes.

"Paul Laurence Dunbar."  The Dayton Journal (Dayton, Ohio).  February 10, 1906.  Page 1.