Majors’ legacy acknowledged
WEIRTON – The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center will observe Black History Month with a special program “African-American Archeology in West Virginia and the Ohio Valley” at noon Feb. 2 at the museum located at 3149 Main St.
Heather Cline, Grave Creek Mound Archeological Complex lead curator, will present, and Museum Secretary Kim Salter chairs.
The new Dunbar School history display, with display space donated by Bob Kelley, will be unveiled. As part of that display, the life of Anthony John Major, Dunbar High School principal from 1932 until 1949, will be celebrated on what would have been his 114th birthday.
Major was born Feb. 2, 1899, in Tampa, Fla., and began his teaching career in that state. He attended West Virginia State College and arrived in Weirton in 1931, according to museum President Dennis Jones’ research.
At the time Major arrived, those African-American high school-aged students in the city traveled by street car to Steubenville, Ohio, for their education. The local board of education established Dunbar High School for those students in 1932 and hired Major as principal, according to Jones.
In addition to his responsibilities as principal, Major was attending the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned master’s and doctorate degrees. While studying for his doctorate degree, Major was inspired during a class discussion of W.E.B. Dubois’ “Black Reconstruction” to write Dubois about the importance of “something constructive in our community.” Major’s doctorate thesis was “An Investigation of Supervisory Practices for the Improvement of Instruction in Negro Public Schools,” and he was the first African-American high school principal with a doctorate in the state, according to Jones’ research.
Major became a well-known educator, addressing high school graduations in Ohio, Virginia, Missouri and Florida, and was offered the presidency of a Florida college.
Major 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 grade and high schools. 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.”
Major was involved in more than 18 community and state organizations, including Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, Weirton Planning Commission, West Virginia Human Relations Commission and the Weirton Cancer Control Committee. He was United Negro College Fund Drive chair in Hancock County and Steubenville, Ohio. As a Dunbar Parent-Teacher Association representative, he served on the Weir-Cove Community Service Council’s Executive Committee, being involved with the initial planning for the Millsop Community Center, which opened in 1952.
Major died Dec. 20, 1949, at the age of 50, and news of his death was greeted with testimonials of his importance to the community from Mayor Thomas E. Millsop, Coach Carl Hamill and several other community leaders, many of which were printed in The Weirton Daily Times, according to Jones.
Major’s legacy was recognized with the dedication of the Major Gymnasium and Auditorium, built adjacent to Dunbar High School and dedicated Dec. 17, 1954, and the formation of the Dr. Anthony J. Major Chorus at St. Peters A.M.E. Church in 1961, according to Jones’ research.
Weirton schools were desegregated in 1955, at least partially because of Major’s work in the field of education.