The Dunbar Collection
An Introduction by Hermina Walthall Hendricks, Dunbar High School Class of 1969
The opening lines and first verse of the Dunbar High School Alma Mater was written by Rosa Lomax, class of 1938. The lyrics were set to an early American folk song, Auld Lang Syne. (The tune, set to 18th century lyrics, bids farewell to the passing of the old year). The first and second phrases of the Rosa Lomax lyrics embody the significance of the Dunbar High School historical collection donated to the Lynchburg Museum at the Old Court House in 2014 by Carolyn Brown, member of the 1944 graduating class.
This collection is the primary source that gives authenticity to the existence of Dunbar High School, formerly located at 12th and Polk Streets, Lynchburg, VA as a successful academic institution throughout most of the twentieth century. The collection dating from 1905 to present day represents a collection of:
- Academic records
- Lists of curriculum departments
- Commencement programs including student speakers and keynotes
- Class lists of students beginning with the first graduating class of 1905 (Lynchburg Colored High School) through 1970
- Annual list of faculty
- Dunbar Chronicle, newsletters, yearbooks
- Accreditation documents related to certification by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- Library reports
- Student handbooks
- A Dunbar History
- Athletic banquet programs and menus
- Dunbar Fine Arts—concerts and theatrical programs
- National Honor Society programs, photos of every facet of the school
- PTA recommendations
- Class reunion documentations
- Collected obituaries
- Newspaper clippings
- Student Code of Ethics
The Dunbar Collection is not only an historical record of the school’s growth and development, but represents a legacy of success that enabled young people of color who were disenfranchised and segregated from the early 1900s to 1970 to receive a public education. Therefore, the lyrics, “We are her sons and daughters true…” speaks to the validity and value of each Dunbar student’s experience of academic achievement, personal history, connection, and success story as it related to the school and as the school related to its students.
For over forty years, Miss Carolyn Brown, housed in her home the former Dunbar High School files and collected related papers, photos, yearbooks, journal articles, and newspaper clippings of success stories of former students. Why? She states: “I have always been committed and dedicated to the integrity of the Dunbar High School legacy and the development of early twentieth century public education for black youths in Lynchburg.”
First of all, she and her sister, Edwina Brown Beverley, are Lynchburg natives growing up in the Bedford Avenue section of the city. Their mother, Mildred Garland Brown graduated from the Jackson Street High School for Coloreds and attended Minor Teacher College in Washington, D.C. Mr. Edward H. Brown, their father, was a grocer who owned and operated a grocery store in the neighborhood next door to the home.
After furthering her education at A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, Brown after several years, became the Dunbar High School secretary. Her responsibilities were not only as the executive secretary to Principal Clarence W. Seay and Vice Principal Pauline Weeden, but also the school secretary. She remained in that position eventually becoming secretary to Principal Wilbert T. Lewis until summer of 1970 when the school became the 9th and 10th grade school for all students in Lynchburg.
Wilbert T. Lewis is a Lynchburg native who graduated in 1953 from Dunbar High School and furthered his education at Virginia Union University, obtaining degrees and credits in chemistry, math, and history, respectively. His graduate degree was obtained from Western Kentucky University along with significant doctorate work at the University of Virginia. Lewis returned to Lynchburg as a teacher at Dunbar High School and was later appointed as Principal of Dunbar Junior High School. In January 1970, Lewis was appointed by the Lynchburg School Board and Superintendent Fred Young as Principal of Dunbar Senior High School but still maintained his principal responsibilities for the Junior High.
In the early seventies, the Supreme Court in the school desegregation decision of Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg laid the framework for all future court decisions on busing. It stated that “if a school district is found to be in constitutional violation, an appropriate remedy must be implemented”. Therefore, in fall 1970 Dunbar High School became the 9th and 10th grade school and E.C. Glass High School became the 11th and 12th grade school, both fully integrated. Thus ended the Dunbar High School community for all black students in the summer of 1970.
Lewis stated: “In the summer of 1970, I entrusted all of the Dunbar High School files in the main office to Miss Carolyn Brown. She was a lady of impeccable professional values and I knew she would preserve, treasure, and secure the files. She was a nice lady and I had the utmost trust in her. I knew that the Dunbar files would probably be delegated to the garbage disposals prior to the arrival of new students and the integrated agenda for public schools in Lynchburg, VA. Carolyn Brown therefore became custodian of the Dunbar High School files.”
The Dunbar Collection housed at the Lynchburg Museum will exist for the foreseeable future. These documents represent the legacy of an educational institution that became a community and cultural center that bonded all individuals - students, parents, faculty, and staff that were connected to the school for decades. This was a time in which young students of color were given an opportunity to receive an education that would prepare them for a successful future as model citizens in their respective communities throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In the reflections of Carolyn Brown she states: “The school was a valuable community asset and unifying force for the Afro-American community”.
By his strong leadership, Clarence W. Seay, transformed Dunbar High School into a treasured institution for decades—from segregation through integration. The foundation of instruction was based upon his guiding leadership principals of academic excellence for all students and that the “school is the community and the community is the school”. Under Principal Seay’s philosophy of excellence, students had to be prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow in a global community different from their culture, neighborhoods, and Lynchburg, VA.
As a result, Dunbar graduates were prepared to live a more self-sufficient and successful life in their careers, professions, jobs, and self-owned businesses. Dunbar prepared us for many of the leading colleges and universities, not only in Virginia, but in varied states across America. Students were academically prepared to meet the rigorous major and minor study programs and to compete with students who were different from their family backgrounds and culture. Dunbar graduates were prepared for collegiate standards at Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Hampton University, Howard University, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University, North Carolina College and University, and others.
Students were also prepared to meet the educational and cultural challenges of integrated colleges and universities in many states, such as Columbia University, Harvard University, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Cornell University, Defiance College, Yale University, Temple University, Wharton School of Business, University of Virginia, and others.
Dunbar High School 1923 – 1970 on College Hill was the heart and soul of the black community for decades. The school was not only the academic, cultural, athletic, and social center in the city for black citizens. It also represented a refuge of hope that education was the key to having a quality of life that enabled all to be successful through harsh segregated times. The school was trusted, loved, and cherished by many that forever bonded us as students, administration, faculty, and staff as a family. This bond is exemplified and celebrated in the six All-Dunbar Reunions that have been held over the past twenty-five years.
By Hermina Walthall Hendricks
Proud member of the Dunbar High School Class of 1969