Dunbar celebrates centennial

Marking 100 years since the building originally opened as a high school, Dunbar Community Center celebrated its centennial with a news conference, open house, shared memories from alumni, and a proclamation from Mayor Linda Gorton.

“Everyone loves a celebration, and this centennial for the original Dunbar High School is a testament to the enduring legacy of this building,” Mayor Linda Gorton said. “As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s so important that we continue to highlight the history of this amazing place, and its importance to Lexington, across generations. As we continue to offer programs here through Parks & Recreation, it’s critical that we honor the past and the many memories tied to this facility.”

The center originally opened as an all-Black high school on Feb. 15, 1923. It was the first Black high school in Kentucky to be admitted into the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

The school has a rich sports history. Legendary coach S.T. Roach built a basketball dynasty at Dunbar – winning 512 games and capturing six regional titles and two Kentucky High School Athletic League State Championships. Numerous other championships were won in other sports, as well.

The school was also known for academic excellence. “I fell in love with the original Paul Laurence Dunbar High School at a very young age,” said Rep. George Brown, who attended the school and now represents its district in the General Assembly. “Dunbar was the school that all black kids in the city school district looked forward to attending. Since my school days at DHS, I’ve grown to appreciate all the levels of excellence taught there – scholarship, arts, music, citizenship, athletics, leadership, discipline. They taught students to work without ceasing to reach the highest level of achievement.”

In 1967, the school closed due to desegregation, with students divided among other Lexington high schools. The City bought the building in 1973 for Parks & Recreation. Portions of the old building, such as the original cornice above the entrance, were kept. The rest of the building was renovated and converted into the current community center, which opened in 1978.

Many people have generational ties to the community center.

“I am so humbled to be a part of the 100-year celebration,” said Councilmember Tayna Fogle, whose district includes Dunbar Community Center. “My family, friends, mentors and many individuals I look up to, including but not limited to S.T. Roach, Margaret Sweat, Bobby Washington and Mary Ann Adams, attended the original Dunbar school. A century later, I am still connected to what’s now Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, due to my great niece and nephew, Justice and Jakobe, attending the high school. Dunbar high and Dunbar Community Center have been a life line for our community roots. It stands with deep spiritual connections to the community.”

Angie Green Hampton, former center director, said, “The original Dunbar High School, now Community Center, played an important role in my life. My mother Betty Marshall Green was a 1950 graduate of the original Dunbar High School; and two of my siblings attended the school until it closed in 1967. Dunbar Community Center is where I began my career at Parks in 1991, and where I served as the Center Director for 11 years.”

Lexington Parks & Recreation manages and programs the building, while working with partners to help provide services beyond what the city offers. Dunbar’s legacy continues through many activities, including basketball leagues, camps, the Therapeutic Recreation program, and partnerships that keep the facility active throughout the year.

Parks & Recreation, a division of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, oversees the programming, maintenance, and development of over 100 city parks and natural areas, six pools, five golf courses, community centers, recreational programs, and three arts venues. To find out more, follow @LexKYParks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or sign up for the email newsletter.

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