Tompkins Hall has been between Hillsborough Street and the Court of North Carolina on North Carolina State University’s North Campus since 1902, although students knew the mill-like structure as the “Textile Building” before 1918. Its namesake, Daniel Augustus Tompkins advanced textiles education at NC State but also promoted white supremacist views in the early 20th century.
D.A. Tompkins was born on a South Carolina plantation on October 12, 1851, according to biographer George Winston. He moved north to study engineering and apprentice for the nation’s top steelmaker, Bethlehem Iron Works. After concluding that the South was poorer than the North because it imported food and produced only raw cotton, Tompkins “devoted his life to the promotion of cotton manufacturing industries and the diversification of Southern agriculture,” as Winston recounted. From Charlotte, North Carolina, Tompkins designed more than 300 textile mills, cotton seed oil refineries and electrical plants, according to scholar Gary Mock.
Tompkins and others then lobbied for textile schools in both Carolinas like those in the North. He told the North Carolina House Committee on Education in 1899, “as we promote a knowledge of cotton milling, its cost is decreased.” North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (NC A&M) offered its first textile courses that year, but The Alumni News lamented that students “learned only by observation” at cotton mills.” So in 1900, the Board of Trustees (which included Tompkins) borrowed $10,000 from the NC General Assembly to “build and equip a Textile Department,” according to meeting minutes. In 1901, minutes show Tompkins designed the building. By 1902, Red and White articles reported, the building was almost complete enough for students to move $25,000 worth of real equipment—all donated by textile companies—into the space.
Even though Thomas Nelson, Dean of the Textile Department, reported the building lacked electrical lights in 1906, his 1907 Annual Report described fifty students learning carding, spinning, weaving, and designing. In 1908, the department added night courses for millworkers; a decade later, the building housed classes like textile chemistry and dyeing and yarn manufacturing. Technician reported in 1926 that students found after-hour uses for the building too: sophomores “improvised ladders and scaffolds” to paint their class numbers onto the clocktower each year.
In 1914, a fire of unknown origins burned down all but one section of the Textile Building, according to The News and Observer. NC A&M rebuilt the next year, and by 1919, the Textiles Department enrolled 162 students. It was the most students at any Textile school in the South and the most people nationwide studying cotton manufacturing together in one college. The increased enrollment prompted a 1926 renovation that included a laboratory for industry research, but Nelson complained in 1937 that “the current Textile Building is totally inadequate to take care of the equipment necessary to provide instruction.” The next year, the federal Public Works Administration, which paid unemployed workers to build community resources, funded a new Textile Building, according to Mock. Textiles left Tompkins.
From 1939 to 1980, many departments came and left the building: Education, Mathematics, Liberal Arts, Politics, and Speech. Finally, the English Department moved into the building in 1981 following a $5 million renovation that linked Tompkins and Winston Halls via Caldwell Hall, according to University Architect records and Technician. Campus organizations also worked there, from Technician’s offices in the 1940s to the “Agricultural Education Club” in the 1960s to the “Society of Paganism and Magick,” “Amnesty International,” and “Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians, and Allies” groups in the 1990s. It was also a site of advocacy: in 1998, The Technician reported that women on campus raised “their collective voice” to get “panic buttons” installed at Tompkins and other sites on campus.
Eighty years earlier, an academic catalog called the building “Textile Building (Tompkins Hall)” for the first time, but the school did not explain its name change. However, the State Record recalled in 1919 that the Tompkins Textile Society honored D.A. Tompkins because “to him is due the inception of the department.”
However, Tompkins spoke out against Black workers and integration in the workplace. “It would seem impossible to work a force of mixed white and black labor where white women and negro men would be…co-workers,” he wrote in the 1899 Cotton Mill, Commercial Features, a textbook “sacred” to mill owners for thirty years according to researcher Michael Sistrom. Tompkins added it was “doubtful whether [African Americans] can ever be successfully used as cotton mill operatives…except in the more menial occupations.”
Historian Erin Clune argued Tompkins and other businessmen in the industrializing South normalized their segregationist and white supremacist views for global and Northern audiences by suggesting conditions resembled contemporary European colonialism in Asia and Africa. “There was never a greater mistake than the idea of putting a darkey in charge of cotton raising in a foreign country," Tompkins told a Pennsylvania manufacturer in 1903.
After purchasing The Charlotte Observer in 1892, reported Sistrom, Tompkins used his influence to condemn African American politicians, just as News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels did in Raleigh. According to The Charlotte News, Tompkins repeated the sentiment in a 1901 Labor Day speech: “it is to the eternal glory of the white race of the South that they did…live through negro rule without ever surrendering to it.” In the same speech, he also commended those who would “keep the children…in the mills under selected superintendents and bosses.”
Tompkins also tried to contain Black landowners. In a 1913 letter, Tompkins informed Progressive Farmer editor Clarence Poe that he agreed with Poe’s ideas about banning Black farmers from owning land in rural, predominantly white areas. Tompkins then ordered his Observer editors to republish Poe’s articles.
Daniel Tompkins made major improvements to textiles education at NC State; he also clearly articulated his support for racial segregation.
Original Source References
“A&M Textile Plant Burns.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), March 26, 1914. In Alvin Marcus Fountain Papers, MC 00007. Legal box 3, Folder “University History Research, Textile Plant Fire.” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
Daniel Augustus Tompkins Papers #724, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“For Training Cotton Mill Men.” The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, NC), January 24, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/57467140/
“Labor Day in Charlotte was Well Celebrated.” The Charlotte News (Charlotte, NC), September 2, 1901. http://www.newspapers.com/image/57880656/
North Carolina State University, Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, UA 001.001. Volumes 1, 2, and 3. NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
North Carolina State University, College of Textiles Annual Reports, UA 130.002. Box 4, Folders “College of Textiles-1906,” “College of Textiles-1908,” “College of Textiles-1919,” “College of Textiles-1937.” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
North Carolina State University, College of Textiles, Office of the Dean Records, UA 130.001. Box 61, Folder “Brochures - The Textile School of North Carolina (Academic Year 1918-1919),” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
North Carolina State University, University Archives Reference Collection, Biographical Files, UA 050.003. Box 56, Folder “Tompkins, Daniel A.” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
North Carolina State University, University Archives Reference Collection, Institutional Histories, UA 050.002. Box 7, Folder “Textiles, College of;” Box 9, Folder “Textiles, College of.” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
North Carolina State University, University Archives Reference Collection, University Buildings, Sites, Landmarks Files, UA 050.004. Box, 8, Folder “Tompkins Hall.” NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
Owens, E.B. “Random Sketches of College History.” The Alumni News (Raleigh, NC), May 1924. In North Carolina State University, Office of Alumni Relations Publications (UA010.200), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries. https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/ua010_200-001-bx0012-v7-007
Red and White (Raleigh, N.C.) (LH1 .N6 R4), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries.
Technician (Raleigh, N.C.) (LH1 .N6 T4), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries.
Tompkins, Daniel Augustus. Cotton Mill, Commercial Features. A Text-Book for the Use of Textile Schools and Investors. Charlotte, N.C.: The author, 1899. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001045743
Secondary Source References
Baker, Andrew C. "Race and Romantic Agrarianism: The Transnational Roots of Clarence Poe's Crusade for Rural Segregation in North Carolina." Agricultural History 87, no. 1 (2013): 93-114. Accessed January 28, 2021. doi:10.3098/ah.2013.87.1.93.
Clune, Erin Elizabeth. "From Light Copper to the Blackest and Lowest Type: Daniel Tompkins and the Racial Order of the Global New South." The Journal of Southern History 76, no. 2 (2010): 275-314. Accessed January 27, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25700054.
Hart, Thomas Roy. The School of Textiles, N.C. State College; Its Past and Present. [Raleigh]: [North Carolina State College Print Shop], 1951.
Kramer, Paul A. "Imperial Openings: Civilization, Exemption, and the Geopolitics of Mobility in the History of Chinese Exclusion, 1868–1910." The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 14, no. 3 (2015): 317-47. doi:10.1017/S1537781415000067.
Lockmiller, David A. History of the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering of the University of North Carolina, 1889-1939. Raleigh: [Printed by Edwards & Broughton], 1939.
Mock, Gary N. A Century of Progress: The Textile Program, North Carolina State University, 1899-1999. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Textile Foundation, 2001.
Reagan, Alice Elizabeth. North Carolina State University, A Narrative History. Raleigh: North Carolina State University Foundation and North Carolina State University Alumni Association, 1987.
Sistrom, Michael. “Summary of Cotton Mill, Commercial Features.” Documenting the American South. University of North Carolina. Accessed 27 January 2021. https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/tompkins/summary.html
University Architect, Office of the. “022—Tompkins Hall.” Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 2020. Emailed to author, 19 January, 2021.
University Architect, Office of the. “Tompkins Hall Building Summary.” Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 2020. Emailed to author, 20 January, 2021.Winston, George Tayloe. A Builder of the New South; Being the Story of the Life Work of Daniel Augustus Tompkins. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1920. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001313462