Black History Month: 5 remarkable people and places you should know in the Miami Valley

Feb 08, 2018

The Miami Valley is filled with numerous people and places to honor during Black History Month.

Here is a sampling of historic sites and contributions from our region: 

Historic home of verse

A portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar painted in 1904 hangs over a mantle in the Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton.

In 1936, the Paul Laurence Dunbar House at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton, became the first state memorial to honor an African-American. 

Home to one of the first nationally known African-American writers, Dunbar purchased the home in 1904 for his mother. 

If you visit today you may think the poet has just stepped out. In Dunbar’s upstairs study and bedroom, you are surrounded by the things he held dear. 

Shelves are heavy with his collection of books. The desk where he composed poems and collections of short stories is covered with photographs and mementos from his travels. 

» READ MORE: Just as he left it, Dunbar house a frozen view of poet’s treaures

“No mail, no morale” 

Lieutenant Colonel Charity Edna Earley was the first black officer in the Women s Army Corps and commanding officer of the only organization of black women to serve overseas during World War II. Photo: HANDOUT

Lt. Col. Charity Edna Earley commanded the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in Europe during World War II. The all-black battalion of 855 women was tasked with delivering mail to Americans stationed in Europe. Their motto was, “No mail, no morale.” 

The job was monumental. When they arrived in England, the Battle of the Bulge had disrupted mail deliveries to thousands of GIs, and three giant airplane hangars were packed full of undelivered mail, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Lt. Col. Earley was publicly recognized by President Clinton at the groundbreaking for the Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C., and in 2002 Clinton invited her to attend the groundbreaking of the World War II memorial. 

» READ MORE: 7 black women who helped shape Dayton’s history

The country’s oldest private historically black university 

Shorter Hall on the original Wilberforce University campus in an undated photo. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REMBERT E. STOKES ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS Photo: Rembert E. Stokes Archives and S

Wilberforce University is the country’s oldest private historically black university with origins dating back before the Civil War. 

Named in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century abolitionist, the university was founded in 1856. Two years later, more than 200 students from around the country, including escaped slaves, attended the university. 

The university became a center of black cultural and intellectual life. Since those early years, the attendance rolls have been filled with influential African-Americans including educator, writer and activist Hallie Quinn Brown; American jazz bandleader Myron “Tiny” Bradshaw; James H. McGee, the first African-American mayor of Dayton; and opera soprano Leontyne Price. 

» READ MORE: Wilberforce University celebrates 160 years

Man of many firsts

Col. Charles Young was born into slavery in 1864. He went on to be the third African-American to graduate from West Point and the first black man to become a colonel in the Army. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL AFRO-AMERICAN MUSEUM AND CULTURAL CENTER Photo: Contributed

Charles Young, who lived and taught in Wilberforce, was the third African-American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. 

He went on to achieve the rank of colonel and serve as a military attache despite being born into slavery in 1864. 

In 1903 he was assigned to protect Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, becoming the first African-American superintendent of a national park. 

Young reported to Wilberforce University in 1894 on a detached service assignment to teach a military science and tactics course. He bought a brick house in 1907 outside of the community and named it "Youngsholm." 

Tours for the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument  in Wilberforce can be arranged by appointment. 

» READ MORE: Col. Charles Young, military luminary

Teaching for the future

Louise Troy began teaching in Dayton in 1878. For many years she was the only African American teacher in the school system.

Louise Troy became the only African-American teacher retained after schools were integrated in 1887. She provided teacher training to young black women in the early 1900s, according to Dayton Public Schools. 

Much of her career was spent at Garfield School, where she retired in 1920. Among the students she taught during her career was Paul Laurence Dunbar, who went on to international acclaim as a poet. 

Troy helped found the Women’s Christian Association in 1893, and it later became the YMCA. She was also the co-founder and treasurer of the Dayton branch of the NAACP located at Zion Baptist Church. 

Troy died in 1941. Louise Troy Elementary School opened in 1957 on Richley Avenue for students in kindergarten through third grade. Today the new Louise Troy PreK-6 School, built in 2006, serves pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

» READ MORE: 7 experiences to learn more about black history in the region