Between the World and Me

Howard University/The Mecca Symbol Analysis

Howard University/The Mecca Symbol Icon

Coates tells Samori that “my only Mecca was, is, and shall always be Howard University.” Founded in 1867 as a seminary for training African-American clergymen, Howard is one of the most illustrious historically black universities in the country; its alumni include Stokely Carmichael, Thurgood Marshall, and Toni Morrison. Coates’ father Paul was a research librarian at Howard, and Coates attends along with Kenyatta, Prince Jones, and many of Samori’s aunts and uncles.

When referring to Howard as “The Mecca,” however, Coates draws a distinction between the university as an academic institution and as a vibrant community made up of young black people from every background, social class, and cultural orientation. It is this social community that truly rouses and inspires Coates. Although he never ends up graduating from Howard, the legacy of The Mecca stays with him throughout the book. In one of the final anecdotes, Coates describes the sense of joy and “black power” he experiences at Homecoming. Like the actual Mecca—the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and holiest city in Islam—Howard becomes a source of strength and guidance for Coates throughout his life.

Howard University/The Mecca Quotes in Between the World and Me

The Between the World and Me quotes below all refer to the symbol of Howard University/The Mecca. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spiegel & Grau edition of Between the World and Me published in 2015.
Part 1 Quotes

I was admitted to Howard University but formed and shaped by The Mecca. These institutions are related but not the same. Howard University is an institution of higher education, concerned with the LSAT, magna cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body. The Mecca derives its power from the heritage of Howard University which in Jim Crow days enjoyed a near-monopoly on black talent.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: Howard University/The Mecca
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2 Quotes

It was the briefest intimacy, but it captured much of the beauty of my black world––the ease between your mother and me, the miracle at The Mecca, the way I feel myself disappear on the streets of Harlem. To call that feeling racial is to hand over all those diamonds, fashioned by our ancestors, to the plunderer. We made that feeling, though it was forged in the shadow of the murdered, the raped, the disembodied, we made it all the same.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Kenyatta Matthews
Related Symbols: Howard University/The Mecca
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Howard University/The Mecca Symbol Timeline in Between the World and Me

The timeline below shows where the symbol Howard University/The Mecca appears in Between the World and Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...in the books supplied by his father, Paul, who works as a research librarian at Howard University. Paul “had been a local captain of the Black Panther Party” and Coates is... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...wonder if black people should “return to ourselves,” concluding perhaps it’s time they returned to Mecca. Coates goes on to explain that his only Mecca is Howard University. Coates’ father, Paul,... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
Coates describes the students who pass through the Yard at Howard; students of different national origin, religions, styles of dress, talents, and tastes. He explains that... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...held the view that black people were “kings in exile” when he first arrived at Howard. At the university library, he enthusiastically devours books, making pages of notes about black history... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...reproducing the same oppressive structures as whites. Coates expresses gratitude to the history department at Howard, where the faculty assure him that his search for new myths to replace the Dream... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...place—“on the one hand, invented, and on the other, no less real.” The community at Howard reinforces this view, particularly the powerful social connection between the students. (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
Coates describes the first woman he falls in love with at Howard, a half-Indian girl from California whose multiracial identity Coates at first does not understand. He... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
The last time Coates falls in love at Howard is with Kenyatta, Samori’s mother. Kenyatta does not know her father, which is true of... (full context)
Part 2
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
Coates and Kenyatta travel to Howard for Prince’s memorial, where people speak of Prince’s deep religiosity, and some ask for forgiveness... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
...brief moment, Coates forgets that he is not in Flatbush or West Baltimore or The Mecca and speaks sharply to the woman. A white man approaches and tells Coates, “I could... (full context)
Part 3
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...to the chance to experience relief from representing his race, and thus chose to attend Howard. At Howard, rather than being a “symbol” of black achievement, Prince could just be “normal.” (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...short. He thinks about the joy he experienced during his recent trip to Homecoming at Howard and recalls a “joyous moment, beyond the Dream” in which he is overwhelmed by the... (full context)