Why does Coates call Howard University “Mecca”?

Coates began to consider Howard University a Mecca for the Black community as it was a sacred place for the community to gather and share ideas. The real Mecca he refers to is in Saudi Arabia and is the birthplace of Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. Malcolm X prayed to this sacred city daily and made several pilgrimages to Mecca throughout his life. As Malcom X was an idol for Coates, the idea of Mecca resonated as an important need for Coates, and he felt Howard University served much the same role as the actual Mecca does for Muslims.

Why is Between the World and Me written as a letter?

Coates organizes the book as a letter to his son, Samori, to give Samori proper guidance, advice, and warning about what it’s like to exist in the world with a Black body. Every part of the book is addressed to Samori, giving the text an intimate tone that makes the reader feel as if they’re witnessing something deeply personal and sacred between two family members, which they are.  

The book’s nature as a letter serves a function beyond the typical dedication, giving the reader the sense that the book is intended for Samori only. Although Between the World and Me is of course intended for others, Coates’s decision to form the book in this way leaves no room for white ownership or for white readers to suggest that the book is for them. Although there are certainly messages and ideas white readers can and should take away from the text, Coates makes it clear, both by writing the book as a letter and through the sharing of certain experiences, that his body and the products of his body, such as the book, are not things to be owned by white people.

Why does Coates name his son Samori?

Coates names his son Samori after the Guinean Muslim cleric Samori Toure. Samori Toure resisted French colonial rule until his capture in 1898, becoming a national hero of African resistance to European colonialism as well as a personal hero to Coates.  

Coates felt that by giving his son a name associated with history it would encourage his Samori to study and regard the past with the importance it deserves. The entire book is written to provide Samori with a sense of history and experiential knowledge so he can bravely face his future as a Black man. The name signifies Coates’s belief that the historic struggles of Black people can provide Samori knowledge and wisdom.

What happens to Coates and Samori in the movie theater?

While Coates and a young Samori are in line to see a movie in the Upper West Side, a white woman pushes Samori due to his moving at a slow pace. Outraged by the white woman’s entitlement and aggression toward his child, Coates verbally admonishes the woman. In reaction to Coates’s resistance, a white man steps in and threatens to have Coates arrested. This threat represents to Coates the ownership his country and its white citizens have over his and his son’s bodies. 

This scene is an example of the danger Black people relentlessly face, even in spaces that are seemingly safe like a movie theater. Even Samori, who in this scene was just a child, is seen by white people as a threat or as someone to mistreat and antagonize. 

How did Prince Jones die?

Prince Jones was Coates’s classmate at Howard University who was shot several times by a Prince George County police officer. The police officer, who was not in uniform, followed Prince Jones in an unmarked vehicle as Jones was on his way to meet his fiancée. According to the officer, Prince Jones refused to comply when the officer pulled him over, ramming his Jeep into the officer’s vehicle and causing the officer to fire his weapon multiple times at Prince Jones. According to witnesses, Prince Jones never rammed his car into the officer’s vehicle.  

After Prince Jones’s death, it came to light that the officer had a history of racially-motivated violence and police brutality. However, the officer never received charges for the crime. Between the World and Me touches on many deaths of Black people by police, but Prince Jones’s death is the most prominent due to Jones’s proximity to Coates.