Textile manufacturer, philanthropist. Self was born in the Bowles Mountain section of Edgefield County (now part of Greenwood County) on July 1, 1876, the middle of three sons of James Anderson Self, a doctor, and Mary California “Callie” Holloway, a former schoolteacher. Self briefly attended Wofford Fitting School and was a member of Clemson College’s first class in 1893 before leaving for financial reasons. He worked as a country store clerk in Greenwood County and completed a course at Smithdeal Business College in Richmond, Virginia. In 1899 Self was hired as a bookkeeper in the Bank of Greenwood. Even after becoming president and treasurer of Greenwood Cotton Mill in 1908, he continued as cashier at the bank until 1916.
Greenwood Cotton Mill, chartered in 1889, comprised two plants (one closed) and 250 employees when Self became president in 1908. It housed obsolete equipment and was mired in debt. Self purchased new looms on credit, hired skilled associates, and improved working and living conditions for employees. In 1916 Self became one of the first mill owners to add a night shift. He reopened the second plant around 1912 and purchased Ninety Six Cotton Mill in 1921 and Grendel Mill No. 2 (Mathews Mill) in 1930. In 1935, with his mills operating three shifts a day in the midst of the Great Depression, Self purchased all outstanding stock to become sole owner of Greenwood Cotton Mill.
After winning awards for providing special textiles for the armed forces during World War II, Self established Greenwood Mills Inc., with offices in New York City, as his own selling house in 1946. The mills eventually were merged into a new corporate structure under the name Greenwood Mills. Self opened the Harris Plant in 1950 and Durst Plant in 1953, and he modernized the other plants in the early 1950s. All improvements took place without outside financial assistance. By 1955 Greenwood Mills was “reported to be one of the largest privately owned textile empires in the world,” employing approximately six thousand workers.
Self was known for his commitment to his employees and to the Greenwood community. The Greenwood Mills construction division built sturdy, modern employee houses in attractive, landscaped communities. Self also provided schools, churches, and recreational facilities. In 1927 he founded Greenwood Country Club for mill employees. Self also started the private Self Foundation in 1942. One of the foundation’s first projects was Self Memorial Hospital, which was completed in 1951 and was funded by the foundation for many years. The foundation continued in the early twenty-first century to provide grants to projects that improved the quality of life in Greenwood and South Carolina.
Among his numerous recognitions, Self was the first South Carolinian to win the Man of the South award (1952) from the magazine Dixie Business, and he received the national Horatio Alger Award in 1955. He married Lura Mathews in 1916, and they had one son, James C. Self, Jr. (1919–1998), who took charge of Greenwood Mills after his father’s death. Self died on July 21, 1955, and was buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Greenwood.
Klosky, Beth Ann. “Greenwood Mills: A Self Enterprise.” Sandlapper 7 (April 1974): 24–30.
Robinson, G. O. The Character of Quality: The Story of Greenwood Mills. Rev. ed. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1975.