Beyond the Mask: A Documentary by PBS
Available for Premiere during Black History Month (February) and also appropriate for National Poetry Month (April), “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.