Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, the tenth of thirteen children to sharecroppers George and Susan Coleman. Her father was part Cherokee. Coleman began school at age six and had to walk four miles each day to her all-black, one-room school. Despite sometimes lacking such materials as chalk and pencils, Coleman was an excellent student. She loved to read and established herself as an outstanding math student. Coleman completed all eight grades of her one-room school. Every year, Coleman's routine of school, chores, and church was interrupted by the cotton harvest.