A message from our Director of Education and Interpretation, Heather Rodriguez:
This blog post is a part of a larger exhibit entitled “This is Dallas” that includes both a satellite exhibit, which will be on display in the Dallas Galleria from December 3, 2021-December 31, 2021, and an on-site exhibit at Old City Park, which will open January 17, 2022.
The goal of the exhibit is to tell the stories of historically marginalized individuals (people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community) within the history we are already interpreting at OCP. My hope is the exhibit will reflect how the history of disfranchised individuals and groups is relevant and impactful to “big picture” history.
The exhibit will highlight the stories of 8 individuals, and below you can find short biographies of each with a bibliography at the end if you are interested in learning more about any topic.
Marcellus Clayton [M.C.] Cooper 1862-1929
Cooper was born, enslaved to the Caruth family, on February 12, 1862, to Sallie Lively, also a slave, and a white man, also named M.C. Cooper. He spent his childhood on Caruth Farm and attended school in East Dallas in the black settlements near White Rock Lake. After high school, Cooper got a job at Sanger Brothers Department Store in Dallas. He worked for 11 years saving money in order to study dentistry at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Cooper returned to Dallas in 1896 and opened a dentist office on Commerce Street. By 1900, he had moved his practice to the same building as Dr. Benjamin Bluitt, the first black surgeon in Texas. Cooper died on December 19, 1929, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, now L. Butler Nelson Cemetery, in South 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.
Anita N. Martinez 1925-Present
Martinez was born December 8, 1925, to Anita and Jose Nanez, and she grew up on Pearl Street in the area of Dallas known as El Barrio. In 1946, she married her husband, Alfred, whose family owned the El Fenix Café. Martinez became involved in her husband’s business by way of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Dallas Restaurant Association (DRA) eventually leading to her candidacy and election to the City Council. In 1969, Martinez was the first Hispanic elected to serve on the Dallas City Council. She focused her political agenda on sanitation, health, and infrastructure for the poor West Dallas communities. In 1973, she was asked and accepted a position from President Richard Nixon’s administration to serve as a Peace Corps Advisor. When she left office in 1975 West Dallas named their new recreation center “The Anita N. Martinez Recreation Center” in her honor. To this day, the ANMRC is one of the most used facilities of its kind city-wide.
Rodd Gray [Patti Le Plae Safe] c. 1958-Present
Gray was born in West Memphis, Arkansas around 1958. He studied business and computer programming before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1979. By 1985, Gray had taken a job with a company in Dallas, and he joined the Cathedral of Hope, located at the time in the building that is now Resource Center Dallas off of Cedar Springs Road. Gray connected with the Dallas Gay Alliance – now the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance – that came to speak during a church service and was inspired to get involved with the AIDS Resource Center. Patti Le Plae Safe, Gray’s drag persona, was born in 1986. She began writing a regular “Ask Patti” column for the AIDS Update discussing safe sex practices and how gay men could limit their risk of exposure to the HIV infection. Within a year, Patti was the United Court Empress and was traveling to events all around Texas as a missionary spreading the “play safe” message and raising money for AIDS.
Maggie Wu c. 1984-Present
Wu was born around 1984 and grew up in a small town in China’s Fujian province. She graduated from Xiamen University before moving to Enid, Oklahoma to work for a family business. Wu married in Oklahoma before moving to Dallas for her husband’s fuel company in 2011. After arriving in Dallas, she realized the only place she could find something written in Chinese was in the Chinese newspaper. She wanted to fill the gap she saw, so Wu started writing a Chinese language blog, whose title translated to “Dallas Foodie.” Though she did not have any formal training in journalism or writing, she quickly became successful. By 2014, her success convinced her to take a risk and move into print. The Asian Magazine, based out of Plano, Texas, covers food and drink, travel, lifestyle, fashion, and entertainment. 90% of the writing is in Chinese, but Wu hopes to add more English in the future.
Alexander Sanger 1847-1925
Sanger was born on May 8, 1847, in Obernbreit Main, in present-day Germany. He was apprenticed at 13 to a dry goods businessman. In 1865 Sanger followed his older brother to the United States, and in 1872 he joined the family business, Sanger Brothers, in Corsicana, Texas. He moved to Dallas later that year to open and manage a branch of the company. From 1872 to 1902, Sanger took charge of the firm’s wholesale business, assuming the retail responsibilities in 1902 and the office of company president on December 28, 1918. After arriving in Dallas, he helped to organize one of the first synagogues in the city. His Hebrew Benevolent Association grew to become Temple Emanu-El. Sanger served as city alderman from 1873 to 1874, made one of the first major donations toward the establishment of the Dallas Public Library, and helped organize the State Fair of Texas. Despite his business success, Sanger maintained a key interest in civic affairs throughout his life. He died in Dallas on September 13, 1925.
Antonio Maceo Smith 1903-1977
Smith was born on April 16, 1903, in Texarkana, Texas to Howell and Winnie Smith. Smith received various degrees in economics and business law, eventually going on to get his Master’s at Columbia University in 1928. In 1932 Smith moved to Dallas, Texas, and beginning in the early 1930s, Smith worked to promote black economic and political empowerment. By 1944 he was working closely with the legal team of the NAACP on the Smith v. Allwright voting rights discrimination lawsuit. He also participated in the NAACP’s legal campaign to end educational segregation in Texas in the Sweatt v. Painter civil suit. In South Dallas, A. Maceo Smith High School was created in 1978. It was replaced by A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School in 2011 and then the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at A. Maceo Smith in 2018. The A. Maceo Smith Federal Building in downtown Dallas is also named after the civil rights pioneer. Smith died December 19, 1977.
Grace Danforth 1849-1895
Danforth was born on February 21, 1849, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin to David and Frances Howell Danforth. The family moved often when Danforth was a child, eventually ending up in Texas. She followed in her father’s footsteps and taught school and music in various communities in Northeast Texas. Danforth decided to enter the medical field after finding the classroom injurious to her health, and she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago in 1886. While in Chicago, Danforth claims, she became a proponent of women’s suffrage. After opening a private practice in early 1888, she was admitted to membership in the Dallas County Medical Association. Beginning in 1890, Danforth worked at the North Texas Hospital for the Insane, later Terrell State Hospital, and served as a gynecologist. In 1893, with the help of nine other women, she organized the convention that established the Texas Equal Rights Association (TERA). Danforth was elected the first president of the TERA. She died in Granger on February 21, 1895.
Quanah Parker c.1845-1957
Parker was born around 1845 to Pera Nocaona and Cynthia Ann Parker. There has been debate regarding his birthplace resulting in both Texas and Oklahoma claiming Parker as a native son. After refusing to join the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867, Parker’s band of Quahada Comanches held the Texas Plains virtually uncontested until 1874. Under relentless pressure from the U.S. army, the tribe surrendered their independence and moved to the Kiowa-Comanche reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. Parker made the transition to reservation life with such seeming ease that federal agents, seeking a way to unite the various Comanche bands, named him chief. In general, Parker was an assimilationist, an advocate of cooperation with whites and, in many cases, of cultural transformation. Parker died on February 23 and was buried beside his mother in Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma. In 1957 Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker were relocated to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Lawton, Oklahoma.
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