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
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.
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.