Marcellus Clayton Cooper, the first black dentist in Texas, was born in the Dallas area on February 12, 1862. He was born a slave and spent his childhood on Caruth Farm, “a former plantation built in 1855 and located on the west side of the Dallas Northwest Highway at Interstate 75 across from the North Park shopping center.” However, Cooper did not spend his entire youth at Caruth Farm. He attended school in East Dallas in the black settlements of an area near White Rock Lake. Sometime during his teen years he moved to Springfield, Missouri, to live with his father. While in Springfield, he finished high school.
Cooper moved back to Dallas after finishing high school. For eleven years he worked at Sanger Brothers department store and saved money to attend dental school. Apparently, his ambitions were no secret to his colleagues. A Dallas Morning News article published on September 29, 1891, stated that Sanger employees gave Cooper “a gold headed cane in token of their appreciation on the eve of his departure” to attend dental school. Cooper left Sanger Brothers and moved to Tennessee in order to study at the Meharry Medical School in Nashville.
He moved back to Dallas in 1896, and that same year he opened a dental practice on Commerce Street and then later moved to a building at Commerce and Pearl, which had been recently opened by Dr. Benjamin Bluitt, the first black surgeon in Dallas. In 1915 he moved to 2551 Elm Street and set up his practice in the Pythian Temple, a popular office building for prominent black professionals.
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, which was the first black-owned downtown department store. He 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.
Cooper married Willie Beal sometime between 1905 and 1910. The union with his wife produced four children. He had two older children, Marzelle and William, from a previous marriage in which he became a widower. His daughter, Marzelle, became Dallas County’s first black juvenile probation officer in 1934.
Cooper and his family lived near downtown Dallas at 1521 Villars Street. His home still stood in the late twentieth century. He died on December 19, 1929, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dallas. The M. C. Cooper Dental Society in Dallas was founded and named in his honor in 1954; Cooper Street in South Dallas also commemorates him.