William Marcellus Drake, African-American physician, surgeon, educator, and civil rights activist in Texas, was born in Egypt, Chickasaw County, Mississippi, to George W. Drake and Sarah J. Drake on April 18 probably in 1870. Sources reveal wide discrepancies regarding Drake’s birth year. His grave marker gives the year of 1864, while his death certificate shows his birth year as 1879 (specifically April 18, 1879). Probably neither of those years is correct. The United States federal censuses for 1880 and 1910 indicate that Drake’s birth year was about 1870, while the 1900 census reported his birth as April 1870.
Drake earned a teaching certificate at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He also earned a bachelor’s degree there in 1895. He became an assistant principal and teacher at the Hempstead (Texas) Negro School in the fall of 1895. The following year, he became the principal of that school. William Drake married Bessie May Brantley on October 6, 1897, in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana. Their only child, daughter Wilhelmina, was born in 1907.
About 1899 or 1900 Drake attended the Chattanooga National Medical College in Chattanooga, Tennessee. From 1903 to 1905, he attended the Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1905. In 1906 he was named dean of the Nursing School at Wiley College. Later he studied at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and earned the doctor of medicine and surgery degree on June 5, 1909. He worked about another year as dean of the Nursing School at Wiley College. His wife taught there.
In 1910 or 1911 the Drake family moved to San Antonio, where William opened a medical and surgical office at 503 E. Commerce Street. Bessie worked as a school teacher. The family lived at 824 Nebraska Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). Bessie died of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 18, 1920.
In the early 1920s Drake married a woman named Mildred, but the marriage was fairly short-lived. On June 5, 1926, William married Alva Inez Taylor, a registered nurse from Buda, Texas. By 1927 the Drake family moved to Houston, where William opened a medical office in the Odd Fellows Building, later at 419½ Milam Street. William and Alva Drake had three children. The family’s home was located at 3319 Shepherd Street (later 3319 Delano Street).
In 1933 Drake filed for an injunction against black voter discrimination in the case of Drake v. Executive Committee of the Democratic Party for the City of Houston. In 1935 when the Houston Informer urged citizens to contribute money to the R. R. Grovey Primary Fund in an effort to fight the white primary elections, Drake donated the first $50. That same year, when the Houston Colored Chamber of Commerce was founded, Drake was appointed to the nominating committee to help select candidates for the board of directors. In October 1938 Drake and three others filed a class-action lawsuit against the Democratic Executive Committee, et al., to try to restrain them from barring blacks from the November city primary election, but the courts denied the injunction. Drake was elected president of the Houston Colored Chamber of Commerce in 1938, but he later resigned. In late 1940 he was again elected, but he resigned again, along with two members of the board of directors, because of dissension.
Drake died in Houston on August 21, 1948, from a coronary occlusion. He was buried in Houston’s Golden Gate Cemetery.