By Vickie Evans-Nash
On Tuesday, November 2, Major Topps, Jr., a well-known North Minneapolis community member and advocate for youth and adults alike in furthering their education, passed away. MSR spoke with family members Sharon Pierson, his sister, and son Major Topps III, who were not surprised by the number of people who came out to pay their respects and honor his life.
Pierson, noting that she was only known in the community as “Major’s sister,” says, “I could not go anywhere in the Twin Cities area where somebody didn’t know him by his name.” Often after seeing him greeted by people in the community, Pierson would ask him, “Who’s that?” He’d usually answer, “I don’t know their names,” to which she would say, “But they know yours — Major Topps.”
Topps gained recognition through his involvement in the community, a local television show, and a KMOJ-FM radio program. Yet, he is most well known for his motto “Education is Our Goal,” a song Topps wrote and an organization he founded while a student at MCTC. The organization’s mission was supporting young African Americans in continuing their education.
“The other night, right after he died, we were sitting around the table and we were all singing, ‘Education is Our Goal,’” Pearson says. “We all know it because he drummed it in our heads from when he first wrote it.”
For Topps, advocating for education was something that sta rted at home.
Pierson says that it was Topps who encouraged her and her daughter to obtain their master’s degrees, and he is the reason her son is an airline pilot.
It was while Pierson was working two jobs and raising two kids that her brother said, “You’re a smart lady. Do you want to work for Honeywell and Control Data all your life?”
She says Topps hounded her until she started attending MCTC along with him. Completing their AA degrees, both she and her brother went to the University of Minnesota-Morris, both receiving a BA. She then continued at the University of Minnesota and he at Mankato State for their graduate degrees.
Youth all over the Twin Cities were treated to the same level of persistent persuasion if they entered a conversation with Topps about continuing their education. Asked if there are others in the community to carry on this legacy, Topps III says, “I think what he was doing was unique. There is nobody who would deal with youth like he would.
“There is nobody who would take on the challenges like he did, in the locations that he did,” Topps III continues. “He worked with the poverty-stricken. He worked with children who were kicked out of the school system. He worked with real challenging children that the people who I’ve seen have been scared to face.”
Soon after his death, there had been reports that he died as a result of an altercation. “I do know for sure that that was not the case,” Pierson says. His death “was not related to an altercation of any kind.” Although she acknowledges that the Star Tribune printed a story stating otherwise, she also says that the family never released the information printed.
“He was diabetic,” Topps III explains. “And they keep saying that it was kidney failure that killed him, and that’s not true either. His kidneys failed about three or four years ago. The dialysis stent in his arm started bleeding.
So truthfully, he died from the loss of blood and [lack] of oxygen to his heart…and to his brain. We witnessed this, so we know it had nothing to do with an altercation.”
In Minneapolis, Major Topps’ name became synonymous with drill and drum teams.
In fact, he started the first Black drill team in Minneapolis. They could be seen practicing and performing all over the cities and during celebrations like Northside Juneteenth, St. Paul Rondo Days and the Southside Powderhorn May Day parade.
As the throngs of people would attest who attended the wake on Tuesday, November 9, at Estes Funeral Home, and those who attended the funeral the following morning at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, his life is to be celebrated. A parade of drill and step team members, including members past and present, made its way to the church before the service.
“Celebrating: That’s what it was about,” Topps III says. “If you see him in church, he was always jumping and shouting, so we wanted to make sure we sent him off in the same fashion.”
Advocating for youth and education, Topps III says of his father, “was his calling. He always said that this was what God put him here for, and that was his purpose, to help his people.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.