Dunbar School exhibit unveiled at museum

WEIRTON – The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center unveiled its newest exhibit Saturday, with a display dedicated to the 23-year history of Dunbar High School.

The exhibit was put together with the assistance of Kim Salter, Corliss Brown and Bob Kelley, who donated two of the three curio cabinets used for the display.

It includes several photographs from the school’s history, as well as diplomas, information about school sports and prominent students. The focal point on Saturday was information on Anthony J. Major, the school’s first principal.

Saturday would have been Major’s 114th birthday, and in recognition, Mayor George Kondik declared it Anthony J. Major Day in Weirton.

Kelley, an athletic standout at Weir High School, discussed some of the athletic history for the students attending Dunbar High, explaining football and baseball were played at Cove Field as well as an empty lot near the school, with basketball played only a couple of days each week at the Weirton Christian Center.

Kelley spoke of some of the teachers at the school, recalling stories of disciplined educators.

“I appreciate your coming out,” Kelley said to those in attendance. “It’s just something special.”

Museum President Dennis Jones said the exhibit will be the museum’s central display throughout the month of February.

“It will be up, as you see it, for at least the rest of the month,” Jones said, explaining the items from Dunbar School will always be a part of the museum’s collection.

The roots of Dunbar High School can be traced to 1917 when three African American children attended integrated classes at the Weirton Grade School. In the fall of 1917, a new grade school specifically for black students was opened and named after poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Prior to 1932, any black students attending high school would have to attend Lincoln High School in Wheeling, or Grant and Wells high schools in Steubenville.

In 1932, because of overcrowding in high schools from neighboring communities, the Butler District Board of Education leased the abandoned Weirton Presbyterian Church building on Avenue F, with classes taking place at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Weir Avenue while renovations were taking place. Dunbar High School opened Sept. 28, 1932 with Major as principal, and Edith Lee and Thelma Warrick as staff members.

The school would temporarily move to another building on Avenue D in 1935, before its final home on Weir Avenue was built in 1939.

Dunbar High School held its final commencement in May 1955, with the graduating class consisting of Raeford Lester, Richmond Gibson, Thelma Dickey, Lawrence Chester, Fletcher Gregory, George Hopkins, Booker T. Walker and Daniel Young.