June 20 - Paul Goes to Wilberforce

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On June 20, 1895, Paul Laurence Dunbar participated in commencement activities at Wilberforce University in Ohio.  Founded before the Civil War and named for the abolitionist William Wilberforce, the university provided higher education to Black students during an era when they were not welcome at most colleges.

Commencement day opened with the booming of cannon, but the rain fell steadily and the extensive preparations in the campus had to be abandoned and exercises held in the chapel.  Fourteen graduates were given to the world.  The crowd was so large on Thursday while the regular exercises proceeded in the upper chapel, the learned writer and poet, Mr. Paul Dunbar, had an audience of over 200 in the lower chapel.

"Current Events at Wilberforce University, Ohio."  The Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana).  July 6, 1895.  Page 3.

Wilberforce is about 20 miles to the east of Dayton, where Paul lived with his mother Matilda.  He mentioned the Wilberforce commencement in a letter to Alice Ruth Moore, a writer and schoolteacher from New Orleans who would later become his wife.

Your letter found me at Indianapolis, but I dispatch this to you from my home where I have come to spend my birthday which occurs the day after tomorrow.  I came several days ahead of time in order to go on and attend the Wilberforce commencement.  I did so and enjoyed the experience very much.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, June 25, 1895.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Several years later, Paul made another public appearance at Wilberforce, alongside members of the Douglass family from Washington, D. C.  Paul had been friends and neighbors with the Douglasses when he lived in Washington.

Hon. Lewis Douglass, of Washington, D. C., son of the late Fred Douglass, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet, will speak at Wilberforce tonight.  It will be a great treat to hear these distinguished speakers.

"Eminent Colored Men at Wilberforce Tonight."  Xenia Daily Gazette (Xenia, Ohio).  October 22, 1903.  Page 5.

A number of Xenians attended a grand entertainment given at Wilberforce last night.  The chapel was packed to its utmost capacity.  The principal features of attraction were the appearance of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet and novelist of negro dialect fame, and Mr. Joseph H. Douglass, the world-famed violinist.  The work of these two distinguished artists was fine beyond description and they were encored to the echo.  Repeated response failed to satisfy the increasing appetite of the audience and when the concert closed it left more than an echo in the heart.

"Colored Society."  Xenia Daily Gazette (Xenia, Ohio).  October 23, 1903.  Page 3.