Harold Cotton, Sr. Diploma

In 1950, Harold Cotton, Sr. earned this diploma for completing a course in hat cleaning and blocking from the Chicago School of Shoe Repair. The trade school advertised heavily to veterans in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the late 1940s, saying the practical courses were GI approved and allowed men to own their own businesses. The trade of hat blocking provided a stepping stone for Cotton, who would buy his own hat blocking and shoeshine shop in his hometown of Greensboro, NC in 1953. The shop, known as Bob’s Hatters for the previous owner Robert Taylor, was located at 108 McGee Street, across from a bustling hotel and in the middle ground between black and white Greensboro.
As an African-American small businessman, Cotton used the income from his shop to move up the economic ladder and promote the welfare of the black community. Profits from the shop supported institutions within the black community, including St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ, the local black Boy Scout troop, and the NAACP. In an era that bridged Jim Crow segregation and the postwar Civil Rights movement, Cotton’s shop served all races but the service remained segregated. Cotton desegregated his shop during the Greensboro sit-ins, allowing an African American marine to sit in one of the shoe-shine chairs, to the chagrin of Cotton’s white landlord.
Black businesses such as Cotton’s provided an economic foundation for African American communities that faced segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence. Black shops and storefronts provided shelter for the development of black public space in an otherwise hostile environment while the income from these business sustained a range of churches, schools and other community institutions. In many cases, the entrepreneurs who ran businesses, no matter how small, had the capital to fund political and social movements.
Object Name
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
wood (overall material)
paper (overall material)
overall: 9 in x 11 in x 7/16 in; 22.86 cm x 27.94 cm x 1.11125 cm
place made
United States: Illinois, Chicago
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
African American
American Enterprise
See more items in
Work and Industry: Production and Manufacturing
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Michael J. Cotton and Harold C. Cotton II

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