On Visiting the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

On Visiting the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872 – 1906

The citizens of Dayton Ohio
in conjunction with the national parks
have established a place to nurture the memory
of the Wright Brothers and Paul Dunbar
“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—“
The only black in his high school year
Paul was elected class president
was the teen-age editor of the Dayton Tattler
friend Orville Wright his publisher
 “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
Crowds flock to the Wilber and Orville stuff
but here at the park interpretive center
the ranger    (a woman of color herself)
seems surprised when asked for the Dunbarfilm
“I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   “
And how the words poured out of him
from this young son of southern slaves
into a country not yet ready
for him and his brothers and sisters
 “ And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   
And they pulse again with a keener sting—“
the world was ready for man to fly
Daytonis left with an air force base
and a hundred years later
                        we are cleaved by the fate
of Paul Dunbar’s brothers and sisters
Frank Kearns
with selections from We Wear the Mask and Sympathy


Matilda Jane Dunbar 1845-1934

What’s a mother to do
with a son as precocious as this
what’s a freed slave woman to do
but smile at a son who poured out words
in stories      on paper        in print
what’s a mother to do
but swell with a bit of maternal pride
her son a leader of literary men
what’s a mother to think
her son out traveling the world
introduced to presidents and kings
while Jim Crow churns old hatreds
what’s a mother to do but hope
that after the searing civil war
her country will come to embrace her Paul
and all of his brothers and sisters
what’s an old black woman to do
but wake in the night terrified
as footsteps and fires still hammer and cleave

the fate of his brothers and sisters


Matilda Jane Dunbar was the mother of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906).

Born in Dayton, Ohio, and schoolmate and friend of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one the first influential black poets in American literature.


© Frank Kearns 2015