This Day in NC History: The Coleman Manufacturing Co.

A landmark African American business

On February 8, 1898, Warren Coleman and his associates laid the cornerstone for the nation’s first black-owned cotton mill in Concord.

Congressman George H. White, himself a civil rights pioneer, was the main speaker at the event. The company represented the first major cooperative effort by North Carolina’s African American businessmen.

The Coleman Manufacturing building, circa 1900.

The Coleman Manufacturing building, circa 1900.

Coleman was the son of Rufus Barringer, a Confederate general, and Roxanna Coleman, a slave. From meager beginnings, he rose to become the wealthiest black man in the state by the 1890s after starting a combination barber shop and candy store and parlaying his success with that enterprise into a large real estate and mercantile business.

With his statewide contacts and a belief in the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington, Coleman assembled partners from the state’s “black elite” to start the mill. James Walker Hood, John C. Dancy and Edward A. Johnson were among the men he asked to join him in the project. The company also had white backers including tobacco magnates Julian Carr and Benjamin Duke.

At its peak, the mill employed 300 black workers. Industry-wide economic troubles forced Coleman to resign from the company in December 1903, and Benjamin Duke foreclosed on the mortgage the next year.

Later a section of the mill built by Coleman was operated as a subsidiary of Cannon Mills Company, headquartered in nearby Kannapolis.

This Day in North Carolina History is a production of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources.

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