Warren Clay Coleman was born March 28, 1849 and died March 31, 1904. He was born into slavery, and his parents were from different areas of society. His mother Roxanna was an enslaved woman, and his father was Rufus Clay Barringer, a Confederate general. The fact that his father was white made his life somewhat easier than most Black people in the era, but he still had to endure the misery of slavery and racism. By the time he was 21, Coleman had become a soldier for the Confederacy during the Civil War. His role was primarily making boots for the troops.
In 1873, Coleman attended Howard University, where he learned how to become an entrepreneur. After college, he created a few small businesses, including a barber shop and candy store. His father gave him capital to purchase land in majority Black areas in Concord, North Carolina to invest in real estate. On these properties, Coleman created an estimated 100 cheap rental homes for Black residents. For the next decade, Coleman would go on to buy farms, city lots and open a general store by 1879.