For 40 years, Paul Coates has lived the highs and the lows at the helm of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing.
As usual, each day is viewed the same.
“It’s always a good day to print,” said Coates, who founded the press and printing operation in 1978 not long after his stint leading the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party.“Even more so than the publishing company, one of the great accomplishments that comes out of this 40 years is the printing company,” he said.
“There are many publishing companies, but there’s still only one black book printing company in this country that I know of and that’s Black Classic Press,” he said, adding that, as a student of printing, he believes he would be aware if there were another black printing company.
Having any conversation with Coates, it’s hard not to pose at least one question about his son, Ta-Nehisi, the decorated journalist and author who has earned global acclaim for his work.
“I didn’t foresee it and I know he didn’t foresee himself having the success he’s had,” Coates said.
When reminded that he’s often referred to as “Ta-Nehisi’s dad” rather than Ta-Nehisi being referred to as his son, Coates laughed.“The moon has been eclipsed by the sun, but it’s all good,” he said.
Coates has a lot on his plate as he celebrates the 40th anniversary of his companies where books and uther literature are available from such icons as W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson and Walter Mosley. Literary lovers can also find such gems like “Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting,” where they can read the compelling account of the historic Harlem meeting between Fidel Castro and Malcolm X and the revolutionary movements they spawned.
Coates’ company has been devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about individuals of African descent. Black Classic Press specializes in republishing works that are out of print.
“We began publishing because we wanted to extend the memory of what we believe are important books that have helped in meaningful ways to shape the black diasporic experience and our understanding of the world,” Coates said.
He owes his success to those who have “reached out and lent a hand along the way.” Those include the “three elders” who gave their support, John G. Jackson, John Henrik Clarke and Yosef ben-Jochannan, Coates said.
However, it was another man named Deaver Smith who Coates said may have inspired him more than others.
“Dozens of people stand out, but the one person that continues to really stand out for me is Deaver Smith,”
Coates said. In 1906, Smith opened Deaver Smith & Sons, a coffee, tea and spice shop along Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Coates became a regular customer.
“I used to pass by the shop all the time and get these wonderful aromas of coffee, spices, teas. The man who founded the company worked with his son and I went in there and asked whether it was black owned, and the son said yes.”