BALTIMORE — Did you know there is only one black book printing company in the country and it's right here in Baltimore?
Paul Coates, a former leader of the Black Panther Party and founder and director of the Black Classic Press, talked to us about how he started the first and only Black owned book printing company.
Coates grew up fascinated with books and learned early on the power of literacy.
“As a child, I certainly had a romance with books and I certainly had a relationship with books. I’m one of those people that used to hooky school to go the library. And just stay in the library all day. Books early on allowed me to travel, allowed me to imagine and see things that I didn’t as a child think I’d ever be able to see.” Said Coates.
That love for learning led him down a path to create opportunities for others to gain knowledge of their own.
After leading the local chapter of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore in the late 1960s and early ’70s, he then formed The George Jackson Prison movement, Black Classic Press and BCP Digital.
Coates left the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s and there were still a number of people from the party in Baltimore that were in jail that he felt he was responsible for. People were organizing inside the jails, while Coates organized outside the jails. Their goal was to bring an educational orientation to those who were coming in and out of the jails.
"We felt books, we felt literature would be the best way of doing that," Coates said.
The George Jackson Prison Movement only lasted two years after facing pressure from the federal and state government, among other things but it opened Coates up to a world of books that had been out of publication for years.
"I knew most of the books that were in print, but every once in a while somebody who had been in jail would come in and they would say 'man I’m trying to find this book, do you know this book' and they would give me an author and I wouldn’t know the person, so as I began to do research, I began to find authors," Coates said.
Finding so many books that spoke to the consciousness of Black people, he decided that those type of books would be the focus of Black Classic Press.
What started as a community program focused on making an impact by providing books that would re-orient people, give them a sense of value and self worth within the community evolved into a book store, Black Classic Press and BCP Digital.
Coates stated all of that was envisioned in 1972 when they had no resources and just wanted to have an impact on the community.
"When I think about the publishing company, the book store, the printing company. All of that was conceived as a part of the initial plan," said Coates. "So, in 1972 when we didn’t have money to even open the book store, we had a plan for setting up the bookstore, we had a plan for setting up a publishing company, we had a plan for setting up a printing company. Fortunately I’ve lived long enough to see all of that come to past."
According to Coates, a lot of people remember him through his connection to the Black Panther Party and through Black Classic Press and that's what he wants to be remembered most by.
"Those other things are important but probably the thing that I want to be remembered for is establishing the first and to date the only Black Printing company in the country. You see there are many Black publishers, there is only one Black Book Printing company and that’s here in Baltimore. That’s BCP Digital Printing," said Coates.
To find books printed or published by Black Classic Press click Here.