DALLAS – A former slave from Texas is being honored for being a trailblazer.
Dr. Marcellus Clayton Cooper was enslaved on a farm in Dallas in 1862, before later becoming the state’s first Black dentist. He also co-founded Dallas’ first Black bank.
At a dedication ceremony at Communities Foundation of Texas in Dallas, descendants of a former Texas slave took part in a tribute to his lasting legacy.
Dr. Cooper was born enslaved on the Caruth Farm in Dallas in 1862.
On Wednesday, a historical marker was unveiled outside what is now known as the Caruth homeplace, where Cooper spent the early part of his childhood.
“To be honest, I never knew exactly where the plantation was,” said Lewis Rhone, who is Cooper’s oldest living grandson.
Rhone said Cooper’s home, located off Villars Street, is still standing. All the neighbors knew of him.
“There were people who said they could set their clocks by him walking. They knew exactly what time he would walk by the house,” Rhone said.
Cooper’s life after emancipation was remarkable.
He saved up money for college by working as an elevator operator at Sanger Brothers.
He later became the first licensed Black dentist in the state of Texas.
Last March, Texas A&M School of Dentistry dedicated their Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic to provide urgent and comprehensive dental care for low income, uninsured individuals in the South Dallas community.
His grandson finds that fitting.
“His clientele, there was no barriers,” Rhone said.
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Communities Foundation of Texas manages the W. W. Caruth Jr. Fund.
The organization’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer said it continues to accelerate the work Caruth Jr. began by funding big ideas, like Cooper’s historical marker, that have the potential for transformative impact.
“We’re striving for a community where everyone has equitable opportunities,” Reo Pruiett said.
Equity was important to Cooper, who also co-founded Dallas’ first Black bank. It closed during the depression.
“They didn’t have the FDIC at the time, so he had to sell some of his assets,” Rhone explained.
Generations later, the Cooper family still has its rooted firmly planted in Dallas.
“We’re a very proud family,” Rhone added.
Within its first year, the Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic had more than 1,800 patient visits, and that number doubled in 2022.
His legacy certainly lives on.