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Wendell N. Cotton
*On this date in 1922, Wendell Cotton was born. He was a Black dentist and community activist and the first Black Orthodontist to open a private practice west of the Mississippi River.
From North Little Rock, Arkansas, Wendell Napoleon Cotton was the only child of Jewel Cotton. He did not know his father’s name until his mother told him just prior to her death in 1972. His favorite past time was reading the dictionary. As a result of this early devotion to the sounds and meanings of words, his mastery of the English language opened many doors of opportunity for him throughout his life.
Cotton graduated from Dunbar High School in North Little Rock, Arkansas in 1936. His choice for college was West Virginia State College (WVS) where he graduated in 1942 with a major in psychology. It was at West Virginia State College that Wendell met his wife of 65 years, Lurline Elizabeth Pearson from Charleston, S.C. The two had two children, Gayle born in 1944 and Wendell Pearson, born in 1947. Cotton served in World War II after graduation from WVS, entering the Army Air Corps with fellow West Virginia State graduate and Tuskegee Airman, George “Spanky” Roberts. Both were stationed at Tuskegee briefly in December of 1942.
Transferred to Fort Monmouth, N.J. in January of 1943, Cotton enrolled in the Army Specialized Training Program in Dentistry through the University of Illinois Dental School. He was mentored by University of Illinois professor, Dr. Renfro, one of a handful of black professors of dentistry at that time. After graduation from Dental School Cotton was selected to participate in the first orthodontics program offered at the University of California’s Dental School in San Francisco, California. Cotton drove to Berkeley, California in September of 1947 when many states were still under Jim Crow laws. Driving straight through with his young family, he managed to complete the trip and settle into his new life in California.
Cotton graduated from Orthodontic school in 1949 and opened his office in Oakland, California becoming the first black orthodontist to open a private practice west of the Mississippi River. 8 years later Dr. Cotton relocated his practice and family to Los Angeles in 1957. In 1963, Cotton moved his practice to Lompoc, California, a small town beneficial for him and his wife until he retired in 1984. Throughout those years the Cotton’s were involved in the NAACP, marched with Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and provided inspiration for his children and all those that knew them.
In 1986 the Cotton’s moved to Dallas, TX. It did not take them long to start another career in modeling, TV commercial work, and extras on several Dallas television shows and movies. (Texas Ranger, Dallas). Failing health in 2005 caused the Cotton’s to relocate to Atlanta, GA. Wendell Cotton died in February 2008 nine days shy of his 86th birthday. He was given a full Tuskegee Airman Funeral.
Personal Records of Wendell Pearson Cotton (son)
5539 Northcut Drive,
College Park, GA 30349