Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored twenty-five books and created twenty-three documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise, and Africa’s Great Civilizations. Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series now in its seventh season on PBS, has been called “one of the deepest and wisest series ever on television,” leveraging “the inherent entertainment capacity of the medium to educate millions of Americans about the histories and cultures of our nation and the world.”

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Professor Gates’s six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award. His series Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (PBS, 2019) was a winner of the the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and his related book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019), a New York Times Notable Book of 2019. Gates’s newest film series is The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (PBS, 2021), with Penguin Random House published a companion book under the same title.

Having written for such leading publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time, Professor Gates serves as chairman of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine he co-founded in 2008, and chair of the Creative Board of FUSION TV. He oversees the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field, and has received grant funding to develop a Finding Your Roots curriculum to teach students science through genetics and genealogy. In 2012, The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader, a collection of his writings edited by Abby Wolf, was published.

The recipient of fifty-eight honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Professor Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list in 1997, to Ebony’s Power 150 list in 2009, and to Ebony’s Power 100 list in 2010 and 2012. He earned his B.A. in History, summa cum laude, from Yale University in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge in 1979. In 2018, he was one of 15 alumni of African descent honored in the exhibition, Black Cantabs: History Makers, at the Cambridge University Library. He also is an Honorary Fellow, Clare College, at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Gates has directed the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research—now the Hutchins Center—since arriving at Harvard in 1991, and during his first fifteen years on campus, he chaired the Department of Afro-American Studies as it expanded into the Department of African and African American Studies with a full-fledged doctoral program. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and serves on a wide array of boards, including the New York Public Library, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Aspen Institute, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of America, and the Brookings Institution. In 2017, the Organization of American States named Gates a Goodwill Ambassador for the Rights of People of African Descent in the Americas. In 2011, his portrait, by Yuqi Wang, was hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

 

Books

Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s Tradition and the Black Atlantic is both a vibrant romp down the rabbit hole of cultural studies and an examination of the discipline's roots and role in contemporary thought. In this conversational tour through the halls of theory, Gates leaps from Richard Wright to Spike Lee, from Pat Buchanan to Frantz Fanon, and ultimately to the source of anticolonialist thought: the unlikely figure of Edmund Burke.
Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary Americans Reclaimed Their Pasts
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2010. Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary Americans Reclaimed Their Pasts. New York University Press. Abstract
As a nation of immigrants, the American experience is vibrantly defined by the diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage of its people. Perhaps because so many of their ancestors migrated to this country relatively recently, Americans are especially concerned with their family trees, carving out personal histories by combing through documents such as wills and estate records, federal and state censuses, and private family papers, and mining the stories and tales handed down to them by their forebears.
In Search of Our Roots
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2009. In Search of Our Roots. Crown Publishing. Abstract
Unlike most white Americans who, if they are so inclined, can search their ancestral records, identifying who among their forebears was the first to set foot on this country’s shores, most African Americans, in tracing their family’s past, encounter a series of daunting obstacles. Slavery was a brutally efficient nullifier of identity, willfully denying black men and women even their names. Yet, from that legacy of slavery, there have sprung generations who’ve struggled, thrived, and lived extraordinary lives.
Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2007. Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own. Crown Publishing. Abstract
Finding Oprah’s Roots will not only endow readers with a new appreciation for the key contributions made by history’s unsung but also equip them with the tools to connect to pivotal figures in their own past. A roadmap through the intricacies of public documents and online databases, the book also highlights genetic testing resources that can make it possible to know one’s distant tribal roots in Africa.
America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans
More than thirty-five years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans wonder just how much of his dream has come true. Now renowned scholar and New York Times bestselling author Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., examines the surprising social and economic journey African Americans have made since the civil rights era.
The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers
In 1773, the slave Phillis Wheatley literally wrote her way to freedom. The first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in English, she was emancipated by her owners in recognition of her literary achievement. For a time, Wheatley was the most famous black woman in the West. But Thomas Jefferson, unlike his contemporaries Ben Franklin and George Washington, refused to acknowledge her gifts as a writer—a repudiation that eventually inspired generations of black writers to build an extraordinary body of literature in their efforts to prove him wrong.

Films

Faces of America
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2010. Faces of America. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Four-hour series, PBS, February 10 - March 3, 2010. Abstract
What made America? What makes us? These two questions are at the heart of the new PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Harvard scholar turns to the latest tools of genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of 12 renowned Americans.
Looking for Lincoln
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2009. Looking for Lincoln. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Two-hour program, PBS, February 11, 2009. Abstract
LOOKING FOR LINCOLN dissects the myths that have grown up around Abraham Lincoln. In doing so, the program addresses outstanding questions - about race, equality, religion and depression - by carefully interpreting the evidence provided by people who actually knew him. Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts.
African American Lives 2
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2008. African American Lives 2. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Four-hour series, PBS, February 6 and 13, 2008. Abstract
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. meets with influential African American figures, like Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock and Maya Angelou, to piece together their genealogy and disclose captivating facts about their ancestors. Genealogical detective work, DNA analysis and the study of historical documents fills in the gaps of history and reveals emotional tales of African American heritage and survival.
Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2007. Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. One-hour program, PBS, January 24, 2007. Abstract
Finding Oprahs Roots, a companion to the book by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., features Oprah, showing by her example, that it is possible to build an African American family tree. Excerpts from the Oprahs Roots documentary are combined with comments from many of the experts featured in the film including genealogist Tony Burroughs and historian John Thornton. Powerful storytelling and a clear how-to guide make this DVD a unique educational resource.
African American Lives
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2006. African American Lives. Writer, narrator and executive producer. Four-hour series, PBS, February 1 and 8, 2006. Abstract
An unprecedented four-part series, AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES uncovers a new level personal discovery. Using genealogy, oral history, family stories, and DNA analysis to trace lineages through American history and back to Africa, the series provides life-changing journeys for a diverse group of highly accomplished African Americans including Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey.
America Beyond the Color Line
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2004. America Beyond the Color Line. Writer and narrator. Four-hour series, BBC2/PBS, February 2 and 4, 2004. Abstract
The evolution of African American society has split into two distinct communities, according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the privileged and the disenfranchised. Viewed through the lens of four intrinsic elements of the African American experience Black Hollywood, The Black Elite, The Ghetto, and The New South gates examines the legacy of the Civil Rights movement since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Edited Books

Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Paul Devlin, ed. 2016. Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs. Library of America. Abstract
In his 1970 classic The Omni-Americans, Albert Murray (1916–2013) took aim at protest writers and social scientists who accentuated the “pathology” of race in American life. Against narratives of marginalization and victimhood, Murray argued that black art and culture, particularly jazz and blues, stand at the very headwaters of the American mainstream, and that much of what is best in American art embodies the “blues-hero tradition”— a heritage of grace, wit, and inspired improvisation in the face of adversity. Murray went on to refine these ideas in The Blue Devils of Nada and From the Briarpatch File, and all three landmark collections of essays are gathered here for the first time, together with Murray’s memoir South to a Very Old Place, his brilliant lecture series The Hero and the Blues, his masterpiece of jazz criticism Stomping the Blues, and eight previously uncollected pieces.
The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader
Wells, Ida B. 2014. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader. Edited by Mia Bay and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. Penguin Classics. Abstract

Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks’s courageous act of resistance, police dragged a young black journalist named Ida B. Wells off a train for refusing to give up her seat. The experience shaped Wells’s career, and—when hate crimes touched her life personally—she mounted what was to become her life’s work: an anti-lynching crusade that captured international attention.

This volume covers the entire scope of Wells’s remarkable career, collecting her early writings, articles exposing the horrors of lynching, essays from her travels abroad, and her later journalism. The Light of Truth is both an invaluable resource for study and a testament to Wells’s long career as a civil rights activist.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The 20th Century Part 1: The Impact of Africa
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and David Bindman, ed. 2014. The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The 20th Century Part 1: The Impact of Africa. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Abstract
In the 1960s, art patrons Dominique and Jean de Menil founded an image archive showing the ways that people of African descent have been represented in Western art from the ancient world to modern times. Highlights from the image archive, accompanied by essays written by major scholars, appeared in three large-format volumes, consisting of one or more books, that quickly became collector's items. A half-century later, Harvard University Press and the Du Bois Institute are proud to have republished five of the original books and to present five completely new ones, extending the series into the twentieth century.

The Impact of Africa, the first of two books on the twentieth century, looks at changes in the Western perspective on African art and the representation of Africans, and the paradox of their interpretation as simultaneously "primitive" and "modern." The essays include topics such as the new medium of photography, African influences on Picasso and on Josephine Baker's impression of 1920s Paris, and the influential contribution of artists from the Caribbean and Latin American diasporas.
The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The 20th Century Part 2: The Rise of Black Artists
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and David Bindman, ed. 2014. The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The 20th Century Part 2: The Rise of Black Artists. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Abstract
In the 1960s, art patrons Dominique and Jean de Menil founded an image archive showing the ways that people of African descent have been represented in Western art from the ancient world to modern times. Highlights from the image archive, accompanied by essays written by major scholars, appeared in three large‐format volumes, consisting of one or more books, that quickly became collector’s items. A half‐century later, Harvard University Press and the Du Bois Institute are proud to have republished five of the original books and five completely new ones, extending the series into the twentieth century.

The Rise of Black Artists, the second of two books on the twentieth century and the final volume in The Image of the Black in Western Art, marks an essential shift in the series and focuses on representation of blacks by black artists in the West. This volume takes on important topics ranging from urban migration within the United States to globalization, to Négritude and cultural hybridity, to the modern black artist’s relationship with European aesthetic traditions and experimentation with new technologies and media. Concentrating on the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean, essays in this volume shed light on topics such as photography, jazz, the importance of political activism to the shaping of black identities, as well as the post-black art world.
African American National Biography
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, ed. 2013. African American National Biography. Oxford University Press. Abstract
The African American National Biography presents history through a mosaic of the lives of thousands of individuals, illuminating the abiding influence of persons of African descent on the life of this nation from the arrival of Esteban in Spanish Florida in 1529 through to notable black citizens of the present day.

The original eight-volume set has now been expanded to twelve handsome volumes in its second edition, bringing the total number of lives profiled to nearly 5,000. The AANB continues to grow along with the field of African American biographical research, providing for continuous updates to the online edition, each entry written and signed by distinguished scholars. This is a remarkable achievement, a tenfold increase over the number of biographies contained in 2004's award-winning and substantial African American Lives, and featuring such notable new entries as Cory Booker, C. Vivian Stringer, and Michelle Obama.

In addition to Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr., the AANB includes a wide range of African Americans from all time periods and all walks of life. Lives profiled include those already recognized as giants of black history, figures whose stories have never been told and that readers will be discovering for the first time, and living people who are shaping the era in which we now live. The names within are both famous and nearly-forgotten. In the words of AANB editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "These stories, long buried in the dusty archives of history, will never be lost again. And that is what scholarship in the field of African American Studies should be all about."
The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Claude Steele, Lawrence D. Bobo, Michael Dawson, Gerald Jaynes, Lisa Crooms-Robinson, and Linda Darling-Hammond, ed. 2012. The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present. Oxford University Press. Abstract

When newly-liberated African American slaves attempted to enter the marketplace and exercise their rights as citizens of the United States in 1865, few, if any, Americans expected that, a century and a half later, the class divide between black and white Americans would be as wide as it is today. The United States has faced several potential key turning points in the status of African Americans over the course of its history, yet at each of these points the prevailing understanding of African Americans and their place in the economic and political fabric of the country was at best contested and resolved on the side of second-class citizenship.

The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present seeks to answer the question of what the United States would look like today if, at the end of the Civil War, freed slaves had been granted full political, social and economic rights. It does so by tracing the historical evolution of African American experiences, from the dawn of Reconstruction onward, through the perspectives of sociology, political science, law, economics, education and psychology. As a whole, the book is the first systematic study of the gap between promise and performance of African Americans since 1865. Over the course of thirty-four chapters, written by some of the most eminent scholars of African American studies and across every major social discipline, this handbook presents a full and powerful portrait of the particular hurdles faced by African Americans and the distinctive contributions African Americans have made to the development of U.S. institutions and culture. As such, it tracks where African Americans have been in order to better illuminate the path ahead.