Major James Lide Coker of Hartsville, South Carolina was a gutsy man of God and an entrepreneurial genius who founded 20 successful businesses. He grew up in the Old South, but became one of the most forward-thinking leaders of the New South. His business odyssey alone makes a fascinating story, but his expansive heart and keen intellect reached well beyond commerce. He was a passionate leader of the Christian faith, a pace-setter in women’s education, and a progressive in race relations. Ahead of his times in every way, he concluded his own book on the Civil War with these words: “There is one great result of the war between the States for which we are truly thankful: slavery is abolished.”
Though high-born, he and his family were brought low. In the Civil War, he bravely defended his homeland, fighting with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, where his brother was killed. In Tennessee, James’s left thigh was shattered at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and he became a prisoner of war. Delirious with pain, he had several harrowing escapes from death before finally returning home to Sherman-devastated South Carolina.
He had lost almost everything, including the use of a leg. But with extraordinary valor, he rose up with a crutch and a hoe to re-establish his farm, and went on to lead the economic, educational, and spiritual rebound of his region in a time of crisis and carpetbaggers.
James became the wealthiest man in South Carolina, yet remained humble and down to earth. His war agonies and innate sensitivity to human need enabled him to identify with the harshest realities of the human condition and with the plight of the disenfranchised. When his ingenious and diligent post-war initiatives brought him rivers of prosperity, he let them flow through him to bless countless others in his rural state. A deeply spiritual man, Major Coker also faithfully taught the boys’ Sunday School for thirty-eight years.
Today, we have too few leaders of genuine integrity. We need more like the Major – rock solid, gallant, far-sighted, and good to the core!
For the benefit of present and future generations, his inspiring story, with fresh perspectives and previously unpublished material, is retold in Dr. Joslin’s unique style, blending biography, daring adventure, courageous faith, and the drama of American history.