Dunbar High School

The parcel on N. Upper St. where the Dunbar Community Center is presently situated has contained several notable buildings over the past century. In 1901, it was the location of the Blue Grass Commission Co. Feed and Meal Mill; by 1907, the Society of Equity was occupying the warehouse. Founded in Indianapolis five years prior, this group mobilized tobacco planters in opposition to the monopolistic American Tobacco Company. Its goal was to fix sale prices for the White Burley varietal by pooling – and potentially eliminating – farmers’ backstock. The association acquired a reputation for violence, as “night riders” threatened and assaulted independent producers who declined to join. The movement fizzled by 1909 after members were convicted for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

In 1921, educator William H. Fouse lobbied the city government to construct a school for African Americans on the site. The result was a grand Colonial Revival edifice distinguished by an ornamented frontispiece consisting of a broken pediment upon two fluted and banded pilasters. The school itself was named for poet and lyricist Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose parents had been enslaved in Kentucky.

Under Fouse’s guidance, the school met with great success and was one of the first African-American high schools to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Fouse also established regional literary and art competitions, along with the Bluegrass Oratorical Association and the Bluegrass Athletic Association. His wife, Lizzie, was just as active in the field of education. Aside from serving as the president of the Kentucky Federation of Colored Women, she founded the local Phyllis Wheatley YWCA branch in the former industrial school at 402 N. Upper and worked on behalf of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs as a touring authority on child welfare.

Dunbar High School shuttered its doors in 1967 following desegregation efforts. During the 1970s, Parks & Recreation constructed a new community center on the site but retained some original features such as the frontispiece.



549 North Upper Street, Lexington, Kentucky