MAJORS, MONROE ALPHEUS
(1864–1960). Monroe Majors, a black physician, civil rights leader, and writer, was born to Andrew Jackson and Jane (Barringer) Majors on October 12, 1864, in Waco, Texas. At the age of ten he worked as a page in the Texas legislature. He attended Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson College) and normal school in Austin from 1878 to 1883; he also worked for the post office. After graduating from Central Tennessee College, Nashville, with a bachelor of science degree, in 1883 he enrolled at Meharry Medical College at Nashville, from which he graduated as salutatorian of his class in 1886. In college he worked as a reporter for several local newspapers. In 1886 Majors began practicing medicine in Brenham, Texas. During that year he became the principal guiding spirit and one of the fourteen founders of theLone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association. Shortly afterward his name appeared on a list, prepared by a group of racists, of influential blacks who were to be uprooted from their positions of importance in the community. Dr. Majors received advance warning about this threat and left his practice in Brenham for Calvert and then Dallas. He ended up teaching in a small country school for a year (1887–88). He later found out that two of the other persons on the list had been hanged.
In 1888 he moved to Los Angeles and became the first black physician to practice medicine west of the Rocky Mountains. He was invited to lecture on medical topics at Los Angeles Medical College; in California race was not a bar to participation in the medical societies. In 1889 Majors married Georgia A. Green. In 1890, after the birth of their daughter, he moved back to Waco to practice medicine and serve as lecturer in hygiene and sanitation at Paul Quinn College. He was at the college from 1891 to 1894. During this time he built and operated a hospital for blacks in Waco. Between 1893 and 1895 he was editor of Texas Searchlight, a serial publication that addressed issues facing blacks. During 1893 Majors worked in Chicago at the newly established Provident Hospital and with Frederick Douglass for five months. He also published Noted Negro Women (1893), a book of biographies of prominent black women of the period, which he had written in California. In the preface to this book Majors states the motivation for his literary efforts: “The world is full of books yet few of them appeal directly and peculiarly to the Negro race….[I] commend these pages to the reading world, trusting that they will for long stand out in bold relief, a signification of Negro progress.”
Majors moved to Decatur, Illinois, around 1896 and to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1897. In Indiana he served as associate editor of the Indianapolis Freeman (1898–99). He returned to Waco, where he was superintendent of his hospital for two years, but moved back to Chicago in 1901. From 1908 to 1911 he was the editor of the Chicago Conservator, and for two of those years he was on the Chicago Board of Health. During this time he became a close friend of the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Majors was active in civic and political affairs, especially in racial issues, an involvement that no doubt caused some of his frequent moves. He was also a member of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the National Business League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was a Mason, a Methodist, and a Republican. In 1921 he wrote First Steps and Nursery Rhymes, the first book of nursery rhymes written specifically for black children. He contributed articles and poems to other publications, including the Chicago Defender, the Bee, and the Chicago Broad Ax. In 1908 he divorced his wife and in 1909 married Estelle C. Bonds. They had one daughter. In 1925 Dr. Majors lost most of his vision; thereafter he was less active politically and professionally. He returned to Los Angeles in 1933 and died there on December 10, 1960.