• 70°

Tragic loss for East Spencer

Dunbar Center

0101op dunbarcenter.sh02

East Spencer residents lost a significant part of their history Tuesday night when flames destroyed the Dunbar Center. Though owners had struggled to find a sustainable use for the former school and community center, Dunbar High School was still very much alive in the hearts of people who grew up walking its halls and studying in its classrooms — and who to this day attend Dunbar reunions.

Start with the building’s namesake. Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was from Ohio, not North Carolina. As one of the first African American artists to gain national acclaim in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, he wrote with grace and dignity about the black experience, and structures in many communities bear his name. For the title of her autobiography, poet Maya Angelou borrowed a line from the Dunbar poem, “Sympathy”:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —

I know why the caged bird sings!

East Spencer’s loss may seem more sentimental than practical, but the Dunbar structure had important history. From the original structure’s days as an all-black high school to the modern campus’ closing as North Rowan Middle School, Dunbar evolved with the times. The speaker at the building’s 1958 dedication held a title now long gone from the state payroll, “Supervisor of Negro Education.” The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled four years earlier that the segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools violated the equal protection clause and was unconstitutional. Change came slowly here, however.

Through it all, Dunbar School represented the best hope for all people — education.

As authorities work to determine the cause of the fire, the community will grieve the destruction of this landmark. Dunbar School burned down before, in 1938, and was rebuilt; perhaps there’s a way it could rise from the ashes again. After meaning so much to so many for so long, the Dunbar name should have a permanent place in the town of East Spencer.



Library to reopen for in-person visits Oct. 1


Rowan Sheriff’s Office K-9s to receive bulletproof vests


Man charged with sex offense, raping teen


Commissioners receive analysis of county’s development application process


Man arrested in Spencer in connection with Charlotte murder investigation


County government losing assistant manager, social services director


RSS will collect information on full K-5 return


KCS sees smooth transition back to classes, unlikely to transition to all in-person for K-5


Barrett emerges as court favorite; Trump to pick by weekend


Tillis says Trump will extend offshore drilling pause to NC


12% of all Rowan COVID-19 cases currently active


Blotter: Concord man faces drug charges after hotel disturbance call


Rockwell teen charged with rape of a 14-year-old girl


Police: Charlotte man caught stealing funeral home employee’s truck


Rowan Social Services director takes new job in New Hanover County; Heidrick to retire

Ask Us

Ask us: Will masks be required in Rowan County polling locations?


Political Notebook: Tillis, Cunningham differ on when to fill SCOTUS vacancy


Local state trooper, firefighter returns home after Army deployment


Blast from the past: Concordia Lutheran Church opens time capsule from previous century


Blotter: Salisbury man charged with damaging video camera, tresspassing


North Carolina man faces over 300 sex-related charges


Coastal flooding along Outer Banks closes roads


GOP hopeful Supreme Court battle will help shift election


‘Better chance of succeeding’: Moody, colleagues reflect on tenure, retirement