Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask | National Civil Rights Museum

Thursday, February 21  •  6pm

Ford Motor Company Theatre  •  FREE

Q&A with filmmaker Frederick Lewis


“Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask” is a documentary on the life and legacy of the first African American to achieve national fame as a writer. Born to former slaves in Dayton, Ohio, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), is best remembered for his poem, "We Wear the Mask” and for lines from “Sympathy” that became the title of Maya Angelou’s famous autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  A clip of Angelou reciting Dunbar’s poem on the David Frost Show is featured. Dunbar’s story is also the story of the African American experience around the turn of the century. The man Abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “The most promising young colored man in America” wrote widely published essays critical of Jim Crow Laws, lynching and what was commonly called “The Negro Problem.” Yet, to earn a living, Dunbar worked as an elevator boy and wrote poems and stories utilizing “Plantation Dialect.” He also composed songs for Broadway that bordered on blackface minstrelsy.

More than 8 years in the making, “Beyond the Mask” received support from Ohio Humanities and major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is a production of the Central Region Humanities Center based at Ohio University.


FILMMAKER's BIO: Frederick Lewis

Writer, director and co-producer Frederick Lewis is a professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University and a graduate of Brown‘s Literary Arts program. His previous documentaries have been seen on PBS stations throughout the U.S. and been screened at more than 70 cultural/educational venues, including the National Gallery of Art, the Lake Placid Film Forum and the Explorers Club in NYC. 

Professor Lewis is a recipient of the Presidential Teacher Award, Ohio University’s highest honor for transformative teaching, curriculum innovation and mentoring. 

He recently served as a Fulbright Specialist in Hungary and has also taught or lectured at universities in Europe and Asia.

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