Poet and writer, Paul was born in Dayton, Ohio, to Joshua Dunbar and Matilda Murphy. He was the eldest of two children born to Joshua and Matilda, who were former slaves, and had two half-brothers through his mother. Paul attended Dayton’s public schools. He was the only African American in the Central High School class of 1890; so few African Americans attended high school at the time that segregated public secondary schools were financially unfeasible in Dayton. At Central High, Paul edited the school newspaper and was a member of the literary and debate societies. Future aviator, Orville Wright, was a member of Paul’s high school class but did not graduate. However, Wright printed a newspaper that Paul published and edited for the African American community of west Dayton, the Dayton Tattler; this paper ceased publication after three issues in December of 1890.