SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - For many, the end of the school year is marked by the tradition of yearbook signing. Friends, acquaintances, teachers, and more sign these books as they are circulated, adding to a written history that – as the years pass – may be treasured, stored, or passed along.
Some of them find their way to public libraries, providing patrons a glimpse into the past and, for many, a way to search for connections. Rowan Public Library has maintained print copies of various yearbook collections for many years and, over the past two, has been working to digitize them. The Dunbar School yearbook collection, which spans 20 years, has now been digitized and is available via the Edith M. Clark History Room web page.
"Yearbooks are very popular with History Room patrons," said Gretchen Witt, History Room supervisor. "For many, they are looking for themselves or friends they made in the years they were in school. For others, they are looking for parents or grandparents to see what their relatives looked like and what they did when they were young."
Dunbar School's yearbook collection remains popular with patrons, and the volumes are frequently requested. However, many of the print copies of the yearbooks are quite fragile. Enabling online access to the Dunbar collection will help preserve the condition of the print copies.
Dunbar School began as the East Spencer Negro School, a one-room wooden building, in 1900. In 1922, after the construction of a new building, the school name was changed to Dunbar and a cornerstone was laid. By 1953, Dunbar School had primary, grammar, and high school departments; the high school had 829 students, 28 teachers, and 28 rooms.
Dunbar's class of 1949-50 was the first to produce a yearbook, "The Dunbarian." It was dedicated to Principal R.E. Dalton, who had guided the rebuilding of Dunbar School in 1940, after a 1938 fire destroyed it. Through the years, the yearbook had other names, including "The Bar," "The Tiger's Bar," and "The Tiger." With the consolidation of schools in 1969-70, the last Dunbar High School yearbook was published in 1969. Thanks to the generosity of Ezra C. Gilliam, the last principal of Dunbar School, and the Wiley Lash family, RPL now has all but two of Dunbar's yearbooks – 1952 and 1953 – in its print and digital collections.
RPL hopes to add the missing volumes soon, at least to the digital collection. "If anyone has volumes 1952 and/or 1953 of the Dunbar yearbooks, I would appreciate the opportunity to borrow and digitize them," said Witt. She can be contacted at Gretchen.Witt@rowancountync.gov or 704-216-8232.
The 18 digitized volumes are free for anyone to access via RPL's website, www.rowanpubliclibrary.org. Click on "History & Genealogy," then scroll down to "Rowan County Yearbooks" and click on "Dunbar High School." This link will take you to the yearbook collection, which is hosted on the Digital NC website.
RPL's History Room has been working with the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a statewide digitization and digital publishing program housed in the North Carolina Collection at UNC's Wilson Special Collections Library. The Digital Heritage Center works with cultural heritage institutions across North Carolina to digitize and publish historic materials online through Digital NC. For more information, visit https://www.digitalnc.org/.