Honor Weirton’s Own Civil Rights Pioneer
Looking back at local newspaper articles and testimonials in the 1940s, you may agree that Weirton had a civic leader comparable to and years before Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Anthony John Major, who was principal at Dunbar High School in Weirton from 1932 until his untimely death in 1949, was that person.
Dr. Major began his career as an educator in Tampa, Fla. and came north to further his education, receiving an A.B. Degree at West Virginia State College in 1931. He arrived in Weirton later that year, when the African-American students were required to travel by street car to Steubenville for their high school education. In 1932, the Hancock County Board of Education established Dunbar High School in Weirton, named for the poet, novelist, and playwright, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Anthony Major was hired as the school’s principal, and became a positive strong leader for the African-Americans in Weirton for the following 18 years.
While living on Kessel Street in Weirton, he continued his education at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1935, he obtained his master’s degree. In 1936, his class was discussing Dr. W.E.B. Dubois’ book, “Black Reconstruction.” Mr. Major, the only African-American in his class, was inspired and wrote to Dubois, stating “We must do something constructive in our community to save ourselves.” In 1940 he earned his doctorate, becoming the first African-American High School Principal in the state of West Virginia to do so.
Each summer Dr. Major taught and addressed colleges in Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, and Florida. In 1946, he was offered the presidency of a college in Florida, but declined the offer saying, “I have come to like Weirton so well that I have decided, after long consideration to remain here and try to finish some of the projects we need so badly. The college presidency naturally carries more prestige, but I believe the greater responsibility rests with the educators dealing with youngsters in the grades and high school. The Negro people in Weirton have come a long way during the last score of years. We have no such thing as a crime problem or juvenile delinquency, it just doesn’t happen. My ambition in Weirton in future years is to campaign for a gymnasium, auditorium and other recreational facilities. The people of Weirton have always been most cooperative and generous and we intend to continue promoting that relationship.”
Dr. Major was involved in over 18 organizations including Boy & Girl Scouts, Weirton Planning Commission, West Virginia Human Relations Commission, Weirton Cancer Control Committee, and the United Negro College Fund drive. He also served on the Executive Committee of the Weir-Cove Community Service Council.
Dr. Major died suddenly in 1949 before many of his dreams come true. In 1954 a new gymnasium/auditorium was built next to the Dunbar School and named in his honor. The following year school desegregation took place and the Dunbar High School students and faculty joined peacefully with Weir High School.
Let us remember and honor Dr. Anthony J. Major.
Dennis R. Jones