February 16, 2015 (Washington, D.C.)—The Atlantic national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates is being honored with a 2014 George Polk Award for Commentary for “The Case for Reparations,” his June 2014 cover story. In this powerful essay, Coates mapped the obstacles African Americans have faced in accumulating wealth across generations, challenging the country to reckon with the moral debts it has incurred from slavery through Jim Crow to racist housing policies. Long Island University announced the recipients of the 66th annual awards last night.
“It’s a tremendous honor to receive the Polk Award. I take it as recognition for the tremendous effort and investment The Atlantic has put into pushing new ideas into the mainstream backed by thorough research and reporting,” said Coates.
“I’m grateful to the Polk committee for recognizing the power and importance of Ta-Nehisi's work. Here at The Atlantic we see his essay as a landmark contribution to a tradition of promoting true equality of citizenship and opportunity that stretches back to our founding in 1857 as an abolitionist magazine,” said James Bennet, editor in chief and president of The Atlantic.
“The Case for Reparations” focused on the North Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side. Coates traced the dire problems of the neighborhood—skyrocketing rates of poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, and homicide—to housing discrimination officially mandated by the Federal Housing Administration after World War II. In moving interviews, Coates documented the predatory loans that were the only choice available to aspiring black homeowners in Chicago—and described a countermovement, the Contract Buyers League, that sprang up in the late 1960s seeking, in essence, reparations. The Atlantic paired the article with two original video documentaries, along with interactive maps that illustrated the enduring consequences of redlining on Chicago’s population.
The piece received overwhelming reader response and critical praise, and has continued to drive a national conversation about addressing racism. “The Case for Reparations” brought more unique visitors in a single day to The Atlantic’s site than any previous magazine story, and the June issue sold 60 percent more copies on newsstand than its 2013 counterpart. Coates has appeared on dozens of television and radio shows and spoken in many sold-out forums across the country, including in North Lawndale.
The George Polk Awards honor special achievement in journalism, placing a premium on investigative and enterprising reporting. They were established in 1949 by Long Island University (LIU) to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war. Awardees will be honored at a ceremony at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Friday, April 10.