The Conservative Coates


By Roger Berkowitz
Wil S. Hylton interviews Paul Coates. Coates was a Black Panther Party leader in Baltimore in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He founded a prison literacy program, owned of 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. And yet Coates would largely be unknown except for his more famous son Ta-Nehisi. Coates the elder describes some ways his views differ from Coates the younger: above all his support for Booker T. Washington and Bill Cosby.

The thing is, “pull your pants up” runs through the whole black nationalist movement. This is one of the differences my son and I have. His breakout article was on Bill Cosby and the pound cake routine, right? [2] Folks want to attack Bill Cosby for hating black people in that speech. But people from my generation understood what Bill Cosby was saying. He would have been on the side of Booker T. Washington, yes. But I’d have been there, too. Booker T. Washington was all about the empowerment of the community. The major organization of black business in his time was the National Negro Business League—those folks were not talking about handouts from white people. A few years after he died, the first thing the Urban League wants is handouts from white people! I would say that most black people are conservative. We’re seen as radical when we demand the same values that America claims to have, but as a whole, we’re one of the largest bodies of conservatism in the country.