“Look at the problem. Find the solution. Take it to the people that can make it happen. This is what I've done. This is what I still do today.” - Matthew Bacoate, Jr.

Matthew Bacoate, Jr., has always looked at himself as a problem solver. It was this mindset that turned him into one of Asheville's greatest advocates for integration and a community leader for Black-owned businesses and jobs.

Mr. Bacoate's parents were from South Carolina, but they moved to Asheville in 1927, three years before Matthew was born. Mr. Bacoate attended Allen Home Elementary School and Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville. Mr. Bacoate spent six years in the U.S. Army before returning to Asheville.

Mr. Bacoate started his career in 1956 as a clerk, writer, and handyman at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber appointed Mr. Bacoate to run its employment project, AFRAM, which produced the precursor to today’s personal protective equipment (PPE), which included making lab coats for clients such as Kimberly Clark. 

AFRAM produced the precursor to modern-day Personal Protection Equipment through a cut and sew operation making lab coats from non-woven material for clients like Kimberly Clark

AFRAM raised money through community shareholders and other partners in order to occupy the former Farmers Federation building on Roberts Street in the River Area (now Wedge Brewing). AFRAM, Inc. grew to become the largest Black-owned business in Asheville's history.

Mr. Bacoate integrated Star Lanes Bowling Center on Kenilworth Road when he lobbied the owner, Sam Irvin, for bowling privileges for Black customers on Sunday evenings. Mr. Bacoate then allowed White customers, who requested to play, to join on Sunday, making it the first public-facing Asheville business to integrate.

In 1969, Governor Robert Scott appointed Mr. Bacoate to the state’s first Minority Business Development Committee. In 1977, Governor Jim Hunt asked Mr. Bacoate to serve on the North Carolina Economic Development Board of Directors as the first Black appointee. He successfully lobbied the governor to establish the North Carolina Small Business Advocacy Council to strengthen small businesses across the state. He was also invited to the White House under both the Nixon and Carter administrations to speak on Black job creation.

Now in his 90s, Mr. Bacoate has continued his life of advocacy and spends his days dispensing help and knowledge to the next generation of Black business owners.

In 2023, Mr. Bacoate won the prestigious William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award, which honors those who have made a significant contribution to the tourism sector in Asheville and who have provided exceptional leadership in making the community a special place to live and visit. See the video created in his honor below.