First African American Owned Textile Mill Finally Gets Recognition in the National Register of Historic Places

First African American Owned Textile Mill Finally Gets Recognition in the National Register of Historic Places

Overview

PreviewBy Victor Ochieng

The Warren C. Coleman Mill located in Concord, North Carolina, is finally getting national recognition as it joins the list of historic places in the U.S. The mill, which was the first ever to be owned and operated by an African American, has  been included on the National Register of Historic Places this year.

 

 

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Cabarrus County Superior Court Judge Clarence Horton said that “It was built as part of a noble experiment. It harbored a dream that a textile mill could be built and operated by persons of color.”

Warren C. Coleman, the founder of the mill, was an enslaved African, who had come from very humble beginnings to construct something that wasn’t accomplished before him by people of his background in America.

His business life began in 1871 when he started collecting bones, rags, and junk before opening a candy store and a barber shop in Concord. According to the Charlotte Observer, the business figure later went to Howard University where he took business classes.

He remained a focused businessman and was excited about real estate, later finding himself in the business. Coleman ended up building over 100 rental homes.

Already established as a wealthy businessman, the idea of building a mill came to mind and he talked some other African Americans into joining hands and investing in the idea.

“It was a game-changer for the African-American community because they had no place to be gainfully employed, except in homes of some [white] people. They were not used to paying blacks. They were their former slaves, so this [mill] represented that dream for blacks to be able to purchase land, a business and be self-sustaining,” the Historical Association of Concord Chairman Rev. Donald Anthony said to the Charlotte Observer.

The mill remains strong even today and still holds great historical significance. During it peak days the mill provided jobs to more than 300 African Americans.

Although Coleman wanted it to be purely owned and run by African Americans, he was forced to bring in a few whites in order to secure insurance for the mill. There were several setbacks along the way, but he managed to see it through to completion and it began operating in 1901.

The timing of the mill was disadvantaged as the cotton market was at a deep loss following the Civil War. At the end of 1903, pressure mounted for Coleman to resign from his secretary treasurer position and he was replaced by a white merchant.

Coleman died in March 31, 1904, and in June of that very year the company went into foreclosure.

Today, the property is being operated as Fieldcrest Cannon Plant #9 by Cannon Mills, the company that took ownership of Warren C. Coleman Mill in 1906.