Little of Willis Hinton’s childhood is known. What is known is that in January 1840 Willis Hinton was born a North Carolina slave. As an adult, he earned the respect of many in High Point, who affectionately called him “Uncle Willis.”
In 1868, Hinton moved to High Point to start working as a section hand for the North Carolina Railroad, laying track being between Jamestown and High Point. Hinton worked for Captain W. H. Snow in his bobbin and shuttle block factory (Bobbins are devices to wind thread, and shuttles carry thread through looms). Hinton worked there until an injury forced his resignation. Hinton then embarked on an entrepreneurial career.
Little by little, Hinton accumulated property. By 1883, Hinton saved enough money to open a café on High Point’s South Main Street. In 1888, Hinton sold his prosperous café to open the Hinton Hotel. Located on Washington Street, the eleven-room establishment was the first black-owned hotel in High Point; Hinton owned and operated it until his death.
Business savvy must have run in the family, for Hinton’s brother, Albert Miller, was also a successful businessman. (Hinton and Albert had different names, for in slavery, different masters owned them.) From 1874 to 1877, Miller operated a brickyard that supplied bricks for many of the buildings in High Point.
Hinton was a religious man, who remained as enthusiastic and committed in his personal life as in his business endeavors. In Clark’s Collection of Historical Remembrances, Stephen C. Clark noted that Hinton “carried a cane which he used frequently to tap some man on the leg and ask: ‘Are you a follower of Jesus, Sir?’” Hinton married Sallie in 1875 and remained with her until his death in 1924.
In spite of his illiteracy, Hinton was a successful entrepreneur. He ran two flourishing businesses when African Americans struggled for equality and respect and to participate in a free market where each held his own.
“Willis Hinton,” African American Gallery, High Point Museum, High Point, North Carolina; High Point Enterprise, January 20, 1935; Mary Lib Clark Joyce, ed., Clark’s Collection of Historical Remembrances: Collections and Recollections from Three Generations of Clark Historians, History of the Negro in High Point, N.C. 1867-1950 (High Point, 1950?); Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, North Carolina, Guilford County. North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina (microfilm).