In a just world, Paul Coates would not be famous primarily for the work of his son. As the father of Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose analysis of American history has transformed the public discourse on race, the 72-year-old Coates is immortalized in his son’s writing as an eccentric and quixotic figure.
“My father was haunted,” Ta-Nehisi wrote in his first book, The Beautiful Struggle. “He’d explain to anyone who’d listen” that those in power “infected our minds. They deployed their phrenologists, their backward Darwinists, and forged a false Knowledge to keep us down. But against this demonology, there were those who battled back. Universities scorned them. Compromised professors scoffed at their names. So they published themselves and hawked their Knowledge at street fairs, churches, and bazaars. For their efforts, they were forgotten.”
Paul himself was largely forgotten by the time his son gained prominence, but in my hometown of Baltimore, his legacy and impact on the city have been profound. After leading the local chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early ’70s, he founded a prison literacy program, opened a bookstore devoted to community service and established the publishing company Black Classic Press to disseminate the work of contemporary authors like Walter Mosley and historic writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, John G. Jackson and Carter Woodson.
Although Coates and I have friends in common, we had never met until late last year, when we began a series of conversations about his life and political evolution. The first interview took place on Christmas, a holiday he doesn’t observe. “I resent it because it takes money out of the community,” he said. “It reflects a powerlessness to make decisions about what’s in our best interest.” As the discussion, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, stretched into the evening and continued for months to come, we talked about his unlikely path from childhood poverty to the Vietnam War to the Panther Party. At a time when the country, and Baltimore in particular, face existential challenges, few people offer such a clear-eyed perspective on the past and the road ahead.
more recommended stories
Should Ethiopia stick with ethnic federalism? | Al Jazeera
Ethiopia embarked upon a set of.
‘I’m either too black or not black enough’: One teenager’s experience | BBC News
This article was written by Aries.
Flint Receives $77 Million to Fund New Water Projects | Colorlines
Ayana Byrd, ColorlinesEthnic politics is not.
Protests erupt after police shoot woman near Yale University | NBC News
Protests erupted for the fourth straight.
Mati Diop Becomes The First Black Woman To Have A Film In The Cannes Film Festival Competition Section | Essence
A Senegalese film is one of.
EyeSeeMe bookstore teaches children the value of African-American history | USA Today
As African American parents, Pamela and.
How prison pulls them back in: The story of Kerry Lathan and Nipsey Hussle is a window onto a parole system that re-incarcerates far too many people for technical violations | New York Daily News
When Kerry Lathan was released on.
The government has failed to learn the lessons of Windrush | New Stateman
Last April the public were made.
Finally! 24-Hour Black News Channel to Debut in November | The Root
I love Baby Boy reruns as.
James Baldwin: ‘I Can’t Accept Western Values Because They Don’t Accept Me’ | LitHub
This interview was conducted on April.