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New Dental Clinic Honors Legacy of Texas’ First Black Dentist

Texas A&M’s new free clinic celebrates Dr. Marcellus Clayton Cooper’s legacy.

Dr. Marcellus Clayton Cooper
Photo public domain

As you travel down Hwy 75 North to Exit 4B, you cannot help but notice Caruth
Haven. Dallas historians made a permanent mark of the old Caruth family and its
plantations. But, the story of a little Black boy born on February 12, 1862, to a
Black woman and a White worker has, to this point, been less notable.

Marcellus Clayton Cooper came into the world months before the Emancipation Proclamation would become law. And, while America declared freedom in January 1862, but Texas did not recognize Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s decree until June 19, 1865.

Texas has a long and storied tradition of denying the civil rights of its non-white citizens.

Cooper spent his childhood on the Caruth Farm, matriculating at public schools in East Dallas. These segregated campuses were near Black settlements around White Rock Lake. Sometime during his teens, he moved to Springfield, Mo., to live with his father. While there, he finished high school and later moved back to Dallas.

Cooper went on to work for Sanger Brothers Department Store for 11 years before moving to Tennessee to study at the Meharry Medical School in Nashville, the first medical school in the South for Blacks.

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According to a Dallas Morning News article, Sanger Brothers Company employees gave Cooper “a gold-headed cane in token of their appreciation on the eve of his departure” to attend dental school.

M.C. Cooper became the first Black dentist in Texas at age 34 and opened an office on Commerce Street. Cooper was active in his community and continually supported Black organizations and establishments. He was a member of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce and invested in the Lewis Dry Goods Store, the first Black-owned downtown department store.

Cooper also helped establish Penny Savings Bank, the first African American bank in Dallas, and he served as a Superintendent of Sunday School at Bethel A.M.E. Church. His final practice location was in the Knights of Pythias Temple in Deep Ellum, before he passed away 1929.

Texas A&M Cooper Dental Clinic
Photo courtesy

In 1954, the M.C. Cooper Dental Society was founded in Dallas and named in Dr. Cooper’s honor, as is Cooper Street in South Dallas. And now Texas A&M is opening a new free dental clinic in South Dallas to recognize Cooper’s legacy.

“Whether it’s undergraduates in College Station or advanced dental students in Dallas, Aggies will always be there to help our fellow Texans,” Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp said in a recent statement. “Dr. Cooper’s legacy continues to thrive within our dental students. I know they would have made him proud.”

The new clinic is located at 4570 Scyene Road in Dallas. The university reports that the building is funded, in part, by a $2.4M anonymous donation with equipment provided via a $780K donation from The Delta Dental Foundation. An additional $2M endowment has been created to help cover operating expenses.

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The College of Dentistry will work with Frazier Revitalization, Parkland Health & Hospital System, the City of Dallas, and the Dallas Independent School District to develop and coordinate services. Outreach will include mentoring high school students interested in dental careers.

In his keynote address to the nation in 1963, Dr. King foretold this day. He said, “I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

We can be proud that today, you can leave the Caruth Haven exit, head South on Highway 75, drive 11.2 miles and see the newest marker in Dallas’ history. The slave owner and former slave have never sat together in life, but they will in perpetuity.

That may not mean much to most, but to the young African American woman, a former basketball player, who gave the keynote address at the dedication of the Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Center, recently.

She will graduate this summer as a dentist and that’s a real big deal. Paris Webb has a promising future ahead, and so do the residents of South Dallas.

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Written By

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.

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