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Black Classic Press

In Appreciation: Six Teachers, Many Lessons Learned

Posted by W. Paul Coates on

Throughout the different stages of my life, I’ve always had memorable teachers. They all played a role in shaping who I am today, and I appreciate each one of them for the contributions they made to my growth as a student and person.

One of my teachers in elementary school was Ms. Bacon, who was an “old school, school teacher.” She was stern. In her sternness, she kept kids in check. There was no nonsense in her class, so you learned.

Then, there was Mr. Johnson in the 3rd and 4th grade. He was the first teacher to introduce me to what was then called Negro History. Mr. Johnson showed me and the whole class a series of illustrations in Life magazine that depicted the transatlantic slave trade. When he did this, it burned something deep inside me about the wrong that had been done to Black people. He was an important contributor to my life and life’s work, and I am indebted to him.

Mrs. Scott, who as my teacher in the 5th and 6th grades, was also a strong influence on me. She enforced her influence with a ruler. She came down on my hand so hard with that ruler one day that I never acted up in her class again. I went from being the worst behaved student in class to being a class monitor, who handed out milk and cookies.

Despite my teachers’ strong influences on me, at one point, I decided to drop out of high school and go into the military. Before doing so, I consulted with one of my junior high teachers named Mr. Davis. He was incensed about my joining the military and dropping out of school. He didn’t want that for me.

He kept telling me that if I left school, I would always be quitter. I remember those feelings. He wasn’t pissed at me, but pissed at what I was about to do. And he didn’t have the power to stop me. He wanted something more for Black boys like me. His example always makes me think twice before I quit anything. He comes to mind when things get difficult.

Several years later after serving in the military and engaging in various other endeavors, such as my involvement with the Black Panther Party and later the founding of Black Classic Press, I enrolled in classes at Sojourner- Douglass College. My teacher and advisor there was Dr. Marian Stanton. She had a quiet way of moving you along with your studies.

I had been there two years and wasn’t doing that much when she said, “You do know, Mr. Coates, that you have to graduate at some point.” A year after my conversation with her, I graduated from Sojourner-Douglass with a bachelor of arts in community development and education.

After graduating from Sojourner Douglass, I went on to pursue a master’s degree in library science at Atlanta University, which is where I met Dr. Bullock. She was one of the most knowledgeable people in Black studies that I would ever come across in my life. We spent a lot of time together.

Her specialty was Black studies and librarianship. I took classes from her where I was the only student, which gave me the opportunity to strengthen as a writer and researcher. Dr. Bullock would never make you wrong during a conversation. Instead, she would say things like, “This is so interesting, but have you considered this or that?”

I graduated with a master’s degree in library science in 1980 and went on to work at Moorland-Spingarn Research Center for more than a decade. Dr. Bullock had a way of giving acknowledgment and praise that made you want to do better with your studies. That’s the space she created for me and her other students. This is the gift that so many teachers around the nation give to their students. May they be appreciated for their efforts not only this week, but every week.