The Neon to host free screening of Dunbar documentary

The Neon in downtown Dayton will host a free screening of “Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask” at 6 p.m Thursday.

Written and directed by Ohio University professor Frederick Lewis, the film chronicles the life and legacy of Dayton’s prodigious native son. Born to former slaves, Dunbar (June 27, 1872-Feb. 9, 1906) is best known for such poems as “We Wear the Mask” and “Sympathy.”

“Dunbar is thought of by many as ‘just’ a poet but he was a prolific writer of novels, short stories and widely published essays critical of Jim Crow, lynching, and what was commonly called ‘The Negro Problem,’” said Lewis. “Dunbar was mentored by Frederick Douglass, who employed the young writer as his assistant at the 1893 World’s Fair, paying Dunbar’s salary out of his own pocket. Dunbar was also very well known to W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Dunbar wrote the lyrics to Tuskegee Institute’s school song.”

Presented through the Miami Valley School’s Speaker Series, the film is more than eight years in the making.

“I have presented screenings of the original version of the documentary at the Library of Congress, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and the Atlanta History Center on MLK Day among many other cultural/educational venues,” Lewis added. “This is a significantly enhanced version I have re-worked and improved upon during the course of the pandemic.”

Daytonians Willis “Bing” Davis, Herbert Martin and LaVerne Sci are all prominently featured in the documentary. Lewis will lead a discussion following the screening.

To register for the screening, visit

The Neon is located at 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton.

About the Author