Warren Coleman historical marker

Warren Coleman 1849-1904 (L-91)

Founder of the nation's first textile factory owned and operated by blacks, 1897-1904. Mill building is 350 yds. N.

Location: US 601 Bypass (Warren C. Coleman Boulevard) at Main Street in Concord
County: Cabarrus
Original Date Cast: 1987

The Coleman Manufacturing Company in Concord represented the first major cooperative effort by North Carolina’s African American businessmen and was the first textile operation in the nation owned and operated by blacks. Considerable public attention went to the mill during its relatively short period of operation.

Warren C. Coleman (1849-1904) was the illegitimate son of Rufus C. Barringer (later 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. He began his business career in 1871 collecting rags, bones, and junk. Soon he started a combination barber shop and candy store in Concord. Coleman parlayed that into a large real estate and mercantile trade. He was a leader in the North Carolina Industrial Association, formed in 1888 to help black-owned businesses. With his statewide contacts and a belief in the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington, Coleman in 1897 sought partners to incorporate his own textile factory. Some have speculated that he was envious of the success of the town’s white mills, especially those operated by the Odell and Cannon families. Holland Thompson, a textile historian who lived in Concord, said Coleman wanted to be considered the “Negro Moses.”

Coleman’s partners were the state’s “black elite” and included James Walker Hood, John C. Dancy, Edward A. Johnson, and other lawyers, physicians, and college presidents. Though predominantly black-owned, the company had some white backers, notably Julian S. Carr and Benjamin N. Duke. Carr attended the 1898 cornerstone laying ceremony, at which Congressman George H. White was the main speaker. Equipment testing began in late 1898 and full production of cotton yarn a year later. The mill at its peak employed 300 black workers. At the 1900 Exposition Universal in Paris, France, the factory was billed as “the only Negro cotton mill in the U.S.” Industry-wide economic troubles forced Coleman to resign in December 1903. Benjamin N. Duke foreclosed on the mortgage in April 1904. Later a section of the mill built by Coleman was operated as Plant No. 9 of Cannon Mills Company.

J. K. Rouse, The Noble Experiment of Warren C. Coleman (1972)
Allen Edward Burgess, “Tar Heel Blacks and the New South Dream: The Coleman Manufacturing Company, 1896-1904” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1977)
Holland Thompson, From the Cotton Field to the Cotton Mill (1906)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 401-402—sketch by Marvin Krieger
H. G. Jones, North Carolina Illustrated (1983)
Cabarrus County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives
(Raleigh) News and Observer, March 23, 1975
Jeffrey J. Crow and Flora J. Hatley, eds., Black Americans in North Carolina and the South (1984)

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