Asheville Chamber honors local living legend with portrait

November 2, 2022

Earlier this year, local artist Joseph Pearson gifted the Asheville Chamber a portrait of Matthew Bacoate. At the Chamber Board Meeting on Thursday, October 27, staff unveiled the portrait in the presence of Mr. Bacoate, his family, friends and local community leaders. 

The Chamber is honored to receive this portrait of Mr. Bacoate and it now hangs proudly in our offices greeting all who enter. 

Mr. Bacoate and artist, Joseph Pearson, pose with the portrait.

A Portrait of Mr. Matthew Bacoate 

Mr. Matthew Bacoate is a native of Asheville who started work at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce as a part-time “clerk, writer, and general jack-of-all-trades” in 1956 after spending time in the Army. During the era of segregation, Mr. Bacoate played an important role in influencing businesses toward race integration.

In 1959, Mr. Bacoate effectively 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 even asked Black employees working as pin setters at other lanes to teach their new Black customers how to bowl. Subsequently, white customers requested the opportunity to play, as well.  Despite expressed instructions to avoid any type of integration, Mr. Bacoate allowed it, and eventually, everyone was won over. With Mr. Bacoate’s courage, charisma, and perseverance, Star Lanes Bowling Center became the first public-facing business in Asheville to become integrated.  His success with the bowling lanes led to requests from local businesspeople for ideas about how integration could be peacefully accomplished in other Asheville businesses.

Mr. Bacoate’s reputation as a hard worker and a nimble thinker within the Chamber, as well as in the community, continued to grow as he provided advice and leadership. For example, he worked with investors to create entertainment venues for Black residents. Additionally, he worked with white-owned businesses to open up previously unavailable employment opportunities for Black residents.  And, for the first time in Asheville history, he convinced a large bank to offer loans to black-owned businesses.

His success and influence continued in the Asheville business community. In 1968, after helping enlist the investors to start the first Black-owned and operated manufacturing company in Asheville’s history—AFRAM—the Chamber and other investors recruited Mr. Bacoate to lead AFRAM as the company’s General Manager. The business 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.  Their building was located in the River Arts District, which now houses Wedge Brewing.

Subsequently, Mr. Bacoate gained well-deserved attention and credibility across the state and nation. In 1969, Governor Robert Scott appointed Mr. Bacoate to the state’s first Minority Business Development Committee. In 1977 Governor Jim Hunt asked Bacoate to serve on the North Carolina Economic Development Board of Directors as the first Black/African American 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.

 Artist Statement

Joseph A. Pearson is a resident artist at Pink Dog Studios in the River Arts District in Asheville.

He trained professionally at the Art Students League of New York and has been a practicing professional artist for more than 45 years. He and his wife Gael, a native of Asheville, moved from New Orleans to Asheville in 2015. Since then, Joseph has been active in the community through the arts. He has curated several exhibits and taught at the Asheville Museum of Art.

His public murals can be seen at Benne on Eagle restaurant along with four portrait drawings of former Black business owners of The Block. He has a mural at the corner of Eagle and Biltmore Ave.

He met Mr. Bacoate in 2016 when he was curating an exhibition titled, “Black Men: Images of Dignity” and asked Mr. Bacoate to be a part of this exhibit. Since then, Mr. Bacoate has been a friend and advisor.