Commemorative license plate would honor life and work of Paul Laurence Dunbar

A state legislator wants to create a commemorative Ohio license plate honoring the life and legacy of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton, introduced House Bill 557 on Friday as a way to recognize the achievement of Dunbar, a Dayton-born poet, who was one of the first internationally recognized Black poets. Bill 557 is joint-sponsored by Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid.

“The life and legacy of Paul Laurence Dunbar has inspired many to become a novelist and to express themselves through writing,” Blackshear said, noting that funds made from the purchase of the plate would go toward projects within the community.

Dunbar was born in Dayton on June 27, 1872. The son of formerly enslaved people, he was one of the first nationally-known Black writers. He published his first poem, “Our Martyred Soldiers,” in the Dayton Herald in 1888.

Dunbar went on to publish multiple poetry books, including “Majors and Minors,” which first led him to national acclaim, and was recognized for his prolific writing, having published a newspaper, poetry, a novel, short stories and plays.

The proceeds from the sale of license plate would support the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, located in Dayton. The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is celebrating Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 150th birthday this year with “The Dunbar 150 Project,” a multi-year initiative created to highlight Dunbar’s literary contributions and share details of his life and legacy.

“The new license plate is coming at the right time to help shine a light on Dunbar’s life in Dayton, the Dunbar Home, as well as his body of work,” said Todd Kleismit, the Ohio History Connection’s director of Community and Government Relations.

HB 557 now awaits assignment to an Ohio House committee.

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