James Arthur Dunn: An Ohio State Engineering pioneer

Posted: February 2, 2021
James Dunn & Alpha Phi Alpha shield
From Alpha Phi Alpha's The Sphinx publication

James Arthur Dunn graduated from The Ohio State University in 1913 with an architecture degree. Known as Jimmie among classmates, he was the first Black graduate of the College of Engineering and among only a handful of Black Ohio State students in the early 1900s.

Ohio State’s first Black graduate, Sherman Hamlin Guss, earned a liberal arts degree in 1892.

More than 460 Buckeyes graduated in 1913, including 107 from the College of Engineering. William Oxley Thompson was president of the university and Edward Orton, Jr. was Dean of Engineering.

A Dayton, Ohio, native, Dunn’s thesis was titled “A Building for the College of Education.” While at Ohio State, he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for Black men, which has been interracial since 1945. His impact on that influential organization continues to this day. In 1912, his design was selected as the official seal of the fraternity among numerous submissions from chapters around the country.

An article in the winter 1923 issue of Alpha Phi Alpha’s The Sphinx described the process:

“Brother James A. Dunn, then a member of Kappa Chapter… was requested by his Chapter to submit a design. The design was approved by Kappa Chapter and sent to the Annual Convention, which that year was held at the seat of Epsilon Chapter, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brother Clarence Jones, now of Los Angeles, Kappa’s delegate, spared no pains in showing the superior merits of the design over the many others that were submitted. At the close of the session, Brother Jones wired: “Dunn’s design selected. Congratulations. Brother Dunn is now a member of Theta Lambda Chapter, Dayton, Ohio, being one of the charter members.”

“Brother James Arthur Dunn was a decorated Founding member here at Kappa Chapter. He embodied what it meant to be courageous, ambitious and scholarly,” remarked Alpha Phi Alpha Kappa Chapter President Samuel Foster. “Setting the standards of scholastic achievement, we strive to uphold the bar he set. Although he has ascended into our Omega Chapter, his legacy lives on.”

A respected architect in his hometown, James Arthur Dunn had been employed as a draughtsman for the Dayton Power and Light Company and retired as a Montgomery County engineer. His death in 1958 at the age of 73 was commemorated in the obituaries of Jet Magazine.

James Dunn in 1913 Makio yearbook
From the Engineering section of the 1913 Makio yearbook

The College of Engineering thanks University Archives and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for assistance in researching alumnus James Arthur Dunn.