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Willie Coats lived almost his entire lifetime in South Bend, mostly on West Washington Street. As a child, he lacked the historical framework to understand the racism he encountered. As an adult, and after he read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he could put his experiences in context—like the racial slurs shouted at him by white neighbors, and witnessing a black man shot by police in 1967 and participating in the riots afterwards. Willie channeled his activism through groups like the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. He held symposiums, started community organizations, and even opened a black-centric bookstore about a block west of the Engman Natatorium. In 2005, Willie sat down with David Healey. Willie spoke about growing up in South Bend’s west side, and what the civil rights movement meant to kids like him. Want to learn more about South Bend’s history? View the photographs and documents that helped create it. Visit Michiana Memory at http://michianamemory.sjcpl.org/. Title music, “History Explains Itself,” from Josh Spacek. Visit his page on the Free Music Archive, http://www.freemusicarchive.org/.

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