Historical Marker Celebrates Dr. Marcellus Cooper

Communities Foundation honors Texas’ first Black dentist

The Communities Foundation of Texas has installed a new historical marker at neighboring Caruth Homeplace to honor Dr. Marcellus Cooper, the first Black dentist in Texas.

The marker’s installation was celebrated with a dedication ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Communities Foundation of Texas.

“Uplifting his story in our community today helps educate us on our city’s history and how his legacy impacts us still, including the land we stand on today, which is where he was born and enslaved,” said Dr. Reo Pruiett, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for the Communities Foundation of Texas. “We hope this effort will inspire others to share their stories and to honor the too often hidden heroes of our past and present.”

Cooper was born enslaved on the Caruth Farm in 1862, a year before enslaved people were freed, although most didn’t experience freedom until June 19, 1865. Cooper went on to attend grade school in “Little Egypt,” a freedman’s town now known as Lake Highlands.

He moved to Missouri to complete high school, back to Dallas to work and save money for dental school, then to Nashville to earn his dental degree from Meharry Medical College.

In 1896, he returned to Dallas and opened his practice.

“The first African American dentist in the entire state of Texas started here in Dallas during a time when politics around race were very challenging,” said Dave Scullin, CEO of the Communities Foundation of Texas. “It was an extremely tumultuous racial climate here in our city in the late 1800s [and] early 1900s, and he still persevered.”

Cooper ran his successful dental practice for 30 years and prioritized giving back to the community and supporting Black business development, including co-founding Dallas’ first Black bank, Penny Savings Bank.

Cooper died in 1929, but to this day, Cooper Street in South Dallas and the M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic are named in his honor.

“[The dental clinic] is still giving the gift that he wanted to give, which is training people to be dentists and being able to take care of his community,” Pruiett said. “That’s the kind of legacy that you always want to be able to tell stories [of, and] our students today … don’t know enough of their history.”

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