BY MR. E. C. WILLIAMS
Librarian, Howard University, Washington, D. C.
Formerly Librarian of Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and
Principal, M Street High School, Washington, D. C.
One of the great differences between modern civilization and the ages that
have gone before is to be noted in the use by many men of information compiled
and published by one of their number. It is impossible to make even an approxi-
mate estimate of the time and energy saved to the human race by the application
of such a process in modern life. Little by little men have learned the value of
organization and co-operation, and have understood how to make use of the labors
of their fellows, and today the extent to which this is done in any group or com-
munity is an accurate index of the state of advancement of that group.
For a long time after the Civil War the colored people in this country were
"hewers of wood and drawers of water," and their business and industrial life was
of the simplest kind. As the years passed slight changes were noted, and in very
recent years the change has been most rapid, especially in the great urban cen-
ters. One of the recognized accompaniment? of modern commercial and profes-
sional life and organization is the directory. In 1820 Bradstreet first published
his famous commercial directory in New York. Thirteen years ago the publisher
of this work thought he saw the need of a directory for the colored business, pro-
fessional and educational world of Baltimore, and later included other cities. That
his thought was a good one is evidenced by the fact that in the years intervening
between 1913 and the current year 12 editions of this work have been published,
and similar works have been compiled for other cities with large colored popu-
lations, in imitation of Mr. Coleman's idea.
One of the very interesting things about this directory is its compiler, him-
self well known in the cities which figure in its pages. Mr. Robert W. Coleman
comes of good stock, being the son of Sergeant A. B. Coleman, who, associated
with the younger Frederick Douglass, helped to organize the colored regiments in
Massachusetts during the dark days of the Civil War, and for this service received
the thanks of the legislature of Boston. He is a brother of Mr. John H. Coleman,
a prominent business man of Chicago, and a cousin of Judge Robert H. Terrell,
formerly of the Municipal Court, Washington, D. C. He married Miss Mary A.
Mason, of Baltimore, who has been an indispensable figure in the life and activi-
ties of Mr. Coleman.
Stricken, after he reached adult manhood, with almost complete blindness,
Mr. Coleman, though weighed down by the responsibility for the care of a large
family showed the stuff that was in him by learning a new trade, that of piano-
tuning, and in his odd hours, at certain seasons of the year, collecting the adver-
tising and other material for his directory in the cities concerned. His energy,
courage and perseverance, under such a handicap, have been little short of mar-
velous. Mr. Coleman is a graduate of the Business Department of M Street High
School, Washington. In his later years under the administration of Rev. Williams'
secretary, he was a member of the board of directors of the Baltimore branch of
the Y. M. C. A.
The directory idea, in this new age of progress and expansion among the
colored people, is capable of almost indefinite extension, and its possibilities are
unlimited. It is our hope that the originator of the idea may some day realize
his most ambitious dreams concerning it. With the assistance of and co-operation
of the communities involved, not only in the way of advertising, but also in the
furnishing of complete and accurate information, there is no reason why he should
not do this, for the enterprise is certainly deserving of the most hearty and gen-
erous support of the public.
P. S.—Mr. Coleman is assisted in the editing of this directory by his second
daughter, Miss Dorothy.