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Leslie Dunbar, philanthropist of civil rights causes, dies at 95

Jan 11 2017

Civil rights activist and former director of the Southern Regional Council, Leslie Wallace Dunbar, passed away in New Orleans on Wednesday, 4 January 2017. He was 95 years old.

Born the youngest of 10 siblings in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, Dunbar moved with his family to Baltimore to escape the pangs of the Great Depression. After serving in World War II, he married Peggy Rawls of Baltimore.

Dunbar later obtained a doctorate in political philosophy and constitutional law. He worked as chief of community affairs for the Atomic Energy Commission in Aiken, South Carolina, before chairing the political science department at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts.

In 1958, Dunbar joined the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta. He served as the organization’s executive director from 1961 to 1965. Using funds from this organization, Dunbar helped to create the Voter Education Project with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Roy Wilkins.

In 1965 he moved to New York to direct the Field Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to child welfare and civil rights. Through the arm of this organization, Dunbar provided substantial support for King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Dunbar also provided financial sustenance to the Children’s Defense Fund, La Raza, and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers’ Association.

Dunbar retired to Durham, North Carolina, in the 1990s. After narrowly losing an election to the Durham City school board, he became active in the social justice ministry of Watts Street Baptist Church and helped found the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.

Dunbar is pre-deceased by his wife, Peggy, his daughter, Linda Kravitz Kox, and foster son, Van Nha. He is survived by a son, Tony, and several grandchildren.

For more on Dunbar’s life, see

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