The Dunbar Branch Library

The Paul Laurence Dunbar Library operated as an Indianapolis Public Library Branch from 1922 to 1967 within John Hope School #26. Lillian Haydon Childress Hall was an educated African-American woman who attended college in Kentucky, and afterwards was the first African-American to graduate from her library school. She acted as the first branch manager for the Dunbar Library. Paul Laurence Dunbar was an internationally recognized African-American poet and novelist during the late 1800s. He used both standard English and “African-American dialect” in his works, despite his distaste for the belief at the time that African-American writers should only write in “their dialect”. His writing would go on to inspire many other African-American writers, including the great Maya Angelou.


In its time, the Dunbar Library attracted many great minds from the African-American community, having many experienced librarians as branch managers, and having received visits from influential African-American writers. It’s no wonder, considering that this was the first Indianapolis Library branch in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, within a predominantly African-American school. It was a step forward in education for African-American students that intellectuals wanted to support and celebrate.

In 1967, the Dunbar Library closed as a branch of Indianapolis Public Libraries, but remained the John Hope School library for many years. Today, the old library is now the Oaks Academy band room. However, there are plans to create a memorial to the building’s history as a school, a library, and as a cultural touchstone of the Monon 16 neighborhood.