City council honors 40 years for Black Classic Press with resolution

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This year marks four decades in business for Black Classic Press, a company that owner Paul Coates has operated with a mission of advancing and disseminating works of black thought. The Baltimore City Council honored that history tonight.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young sponsored the resolution.

“Black Classic Press has been a national leader in publishing lost literary gems,” he said in a statement. “I am proud to join my colleagues in celebrating Mr. Paul Coates for his 40 years of service to our country as a publisher of African and African-American literature.”

Coates, known to many as an influential voice in the memoirs of his famous son, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, started his company in 1978, about a decade after arriving in Baltimore.

Kenneth Stone Breckenridge’s January profile in Baltimore magazine details how Coates’ company grew from the ashes of a the George Jackson Prison Movement. Having left his post within a then-restructuring Black Panther Party, Coates started the program with other black activists in 1972 to bring progressive, black literature to men in prisons. As he put it, the goal was to “retrieve the souls and minds of the incarcerated.”

While Coates’ bookstore that housed the initiative closed, the project gave rise to a publishing company that Coates has now operated for 40 years. Black Classic Press, based out of Halethorpe, has published a wide range of obscure and significant black literature, including books by crime novelist Walter Mosley and Reginald Lewis and reissued work from W.E.B. DuBois, Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka and many others.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration recognized the 40th anniversary of Black Classic Press earlier this year, and the company held a celebration at the Lewis Museum in May.

Coates’ daughter, Kristance, and son, Damani—both of whom work at Black Classic Press—had planned to accept the framed resolution in their father’s honor, according to a media advisory sent out before the hearing.

Ethan McLeod
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