OHIO Archives

Ohio University Libraries Archives & Special Collections

Processing the Horace Coleman Collection

By Margaret Spetz, History ’25, Spring 2023 Archives Intern

Horace Coleman, English Professor at Ohio University in the 1970s and 1980s.

Processing the Horace Coleman collection was my first task as a Mahn Center Intern during the Spring 2023 semester. Coleman was an associate English professor at Ohio University during the 1970s and ‘80s. The collection contains Coleman’s personal letters, his military records, his correspondence with publishers, his poetry manuscripts, and newspaper articles documenting his career and advocacy. I placed these items into various folders, all of which are organized chronologically, in order to highlight the most important aspects of Coleman’s personal life and professional career.

In 1965, Coleman as a young man entered the United States Air Force, primarily serving as an air traffic controller. He served a tour in Vietnam and was honorably discharged in 1970. He was certified several times in marksmanship, and he received several decorations, including a bronze star.  As some of the materials in the collection indicate, Coleman’s experiences in Vietnam clearly shaped the rest of his life. His post-war disillusionment and frustration are reflected in his poetry, publications, and tireless advocation efforts on behalf of Black soldiers and veterans, after he returned to civilian life.

The largest (and my favorite) folder in the collection contains both handwritten and typed draft versions of many of Coleman’s works of poetry. Some of these poems were printed in various publications or in one of his own published poetry collections, either under his real name, or his pen name, “Chaka Shango.” The pages of Coleman’s poetry offer the reader an interesting and sometimes intimate perspective as to what Coleman was thinking about when he wrote. There are pages-long poems neatly typed out, short and pointed poems which were never shared, and handwritten poems scrawled on worn pages. His passion for his work and his resilience in getting his work published are obvious from the large folder of correspondence with publishers. The folder of letters to and from publishers containing both acceptance and rejection letters span years of his life, both as a student and as a professor.

During his time as an Ohio University English professor, Professor Coleman was dedicated to his classes and very involved on campus. He often spoke at lectures and worked hard to connect the English Department and the African American Studies Departments. After leaving Ohio, he became a “poet in residence” at various grade schools, teaching poetry and writing to young students. He also advocated for African American civil rights and better recognition and treatment for veterans through publications and community events.

The Coleman Collection gives valuable perspective to the years during and immediately following the Vietnam War, and the profound affect it had on countless Americans. His career as a published writer and as an educator are also important reflections of the deep value of education in the arts. This collection illustrates the impact his poetry and advocacy had on his students, colleagues, and fellow veterans. This impact is prevalent through the numerous articles about him, published poems and works written by him, and the many events and teaching positions he held during his lifetime. By including items documenting both the personal and public sides of his life and career, this collection showcases the many aspects of a brilliant and complicated man.

Click here to view the collection finding aid.