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-four books and created twenty-one 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 sixth 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 latest projects are the history series, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (PBS, 2019), winner of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and the related books, Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow, with Tonya Bolden (Scholastic, 2019), and Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019), a New York Times Notable Book of 2019.

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-seven 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. He also is the former chair of the Pulitzer Prize board. 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

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Donald Yacovone. 2013. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Smiley Books. Abstract
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is the companion book to the six-part, six hour documentary of the same name, airing on national, primetime public television in the fall of 2013. The series is the first to air since 1968 that chronicles the full sweep of 500 years of African American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent and the arrival of the first black conquistador, Juan Garrido, in Florida in 1513, through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to today—when Barack Obama is serving his second term as President, yet our country remains deeply divided by race and class.
The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2012. The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader. Edited by Abby Wolf. Basic Civitas Books. Abstract
Educator, writer, critic, intellectual, film-maker-Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has been widely praised as being one of America's most prominent and prolific scholars. In what will be an essential volume, The Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Reader collects three decades of writings from his many fields of interest and expertise.
Black in Latin America
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2011. Black in Latin America. New York University Press. Abstract
12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World during the Middle Passage. While just over 11.0 million survived the arduous journey, only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States. The rest—over ten and a half million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. This astonishing fact changes our entire picture of the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere, and of its lasting cultural impact. These millions of Africans created new and vibrant cultures, magnificently compelling syntheses of various African, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish influences.

Films

Finding Your Roots, Season 5
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2019. Finding Your Roots, Season 5. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Television series, PBS (ten, one-hour episodes): Beginning January 8, 2019. Abstract
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps leading artists, politicians and others discover the surprising stories within their own family trees. Each episode weaves together stories from cutting-edge DNA analysis and old school genealogical detective work.
Reconstruction: America after the Civil War
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2019. Reconstruction: America after the Civil War. Writer, host, and executive producer. Four-hour series, PBS, April 9 – April 16, 2019. Abstract

Henry Louis Gates Jr. presents a vital new four-hour documentary series on Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. The series explores the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction, and revolutionary social change. The twelve years that composed the post-war Reconstruction era (1865-77) witnessed a seismic shift in the meaning and makeup of our democracy, with millions of former slaves and free black people seeking out their rightful place as equal citizens under the law. Though tragically short-lived, this bold democratic experiment was, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, a ‘brief moment in the sun’ for African Americans, when they could advance, and achieve, education, exercise their right to vote, and run for and win public office.

Birth of a Movement
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2017. Birth of a Movement. Executive producer. PBS, February 6, 2017. Abstract

In 1915, African American newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly blockbuster The Birth of a Nation, which unleashed a fight still raging today about race relations and representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood. The Birth of a Movement features Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and DJ Spooky.

Africa’s Great Civilizations
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2017. Africa’s Great Civilizations. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Six-hour series, PBS, February 27-March 1, 2017. Abstract
In his new six-hour series, Africa's Great Civilizations, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. This is a breathtaking and personal journey through two hundred thousand years of history, from the origins, on the African continent, of art, writing and civilization itself, through the millennia in which Africa and Africans shaped not only their own rich civilizations, but also the wider world.
Finding Your Roots, Season 4
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2017. Finding Your Roots, Season 4. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Television series, PBS (ten, one-hour episodes): October 3 – December 19, 2017. Abstract
Season four of Finding Your Roots series moves fluidly from Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, uniting us all through emotional moments that enrich and enlighten—encouraging us to look at our world through a wider, more inclusive lens.
Finding Your Roots, Season 3
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 2016. Finding Your Roots, Season 3. Writer, narrator, and executive producer. Television series, PBS (ten, one-hour episodes): January 5 – March 8, 2016. Abstract
Season three of Finding Your Roots explores how diverse racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds challenge many of our long-held national myths.
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Edited Books

Albert Murray: Collected Novels & Poems
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Paul Devlin, ed. 2018. Albert Murray: Collected Novels & Poems. Library of America. Abstract
One of the leading cultural critics of his generation, Albert Murray was also the author of an extraordinary quartet of semi-autobiographical novels, vivid impressionistic portraits of black life in the Deep South in the 1920s and '30s and in prewar New York City. Train Whistle Guitar (1974) introduces Murray's recurring narrator and protagonist, Scooter, a "Southern jackrabbit raised in a briarpatch" too nimble ever to receive a scratch. Scooter's education in books, music, and the blue-steel bent-note blues-ballad realities of American life continues in The Spyglass Tree (1991), Murray's "Portrait of the Artist as a Tuskegee Undergraduate." The Seven League Boots (1996) follows Scooter as he becomes a bass player in a touring band not unlike Duke Ellington's, and The Magic Keys (2005), in which Scooter at last finds his true vocation as a writer in Greenwich Village, is an elegaic reverie on an artist's life. Editors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Paul Devlin round out the volume with a selection of Murray's remarkable poems, including 11 unpublished pieces from his notebooks, and two rare examples of his work as a short story writer.
Twelve Years a Slave: Norton Critical Edition
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kevin M. Burke, ed. 2017. Twelve Years a Slave: Norton Critical Edition. W.W. Norton. Abstract
This Norton Critical Edition of Solomon Northup’s harrowing autobiography is based on the 1853 first edition. It is accompanied by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kevin Burke’s introduction and detailed explanatory footnotes.
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Hollis Robbins, ed. 2017. The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers. Penguin Classics. Abstract
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers is the most comprehensive anthology of its kind: an extraordinary range of voices offering the expressions of African American women in print before, during, and after the Civil War. Edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this collection comprises work from forty-nine writers arranged into sections of memoir, poetry, and essays on feminism, education, and the legacy of African American women writers. Many of these pieces engage with social movements like abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, and civil rights, but the thematic center is the intellect and personal ambition of African American women. The diverse selection includes well-known writers like Sojourner Truth, Hannah Crafts, and Harriet Jacobs, as well as lesser-known writers like Ella Sheppard, who offers a firsthand account of life in the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. Taken together, these incredible works insist that the writing of African American women writers be read, remembered, and addressed.
The Annotated African American Folktales
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Maria Tatar, ed. 2017. The Annotated African American Folktales. Liveright. Abstract

These nearly 150 African American folktales animate our past and reclaim a lost cultural legacy to redefine American literature.

Drawing from the great folklorists of the past while expanding African American lore with dozens of tales rarely seen before, The Annotated African American Folktales revolutionizes the canon like no other volume. Following in the tradition of such classics as Arthur Huff Fauset's "Negro Folk Tales from the South" (1927), Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935), and Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly (1985), acclaimed scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar assemble a groundbreaking collection of folktales, myths, and legends that revitalizes a vibrant African American past to produce the most comprehensive and ambitious collection of African American folktales ever published in American literary history. Arguing for the value of these deceptively simple stories as part of a sophisticated, complex, and heterogeneous cultural heritage, Gates and Tatar show how these remarkable stories deserve a place alongside the classic works of African American literature, and American literature more broadly.

Opening with two introductory essays and twenty seminal African tales as historical background, Gates and Tatar present nearly 150 African American stories, among them familiar Brer Rabbit classics, but also stories like "The Talking Skull" and "Witches Who Ride," as well as out-of-print tales from the 1890s' Southern Workman. Beginning with the figure of Anansi, the African trickster, master of improvisation―a spider who plots and weaves in scandalous ways―The Annotated African American Folktales then goes on to draw Caribbean and Creole tales into the orbit of the folkloric canon. It retrieves stories not seen since the Harlem Renaissance and brings back archival tales of "Negro folklore" that Booker T. Washington proclaimed had emanated from a "grapevine" that existed even before the American Revolution, stories brought over by slaves who had survived the Middle Passage. Furthermore, Gates and Tatar's volume not only defines a new canon but reveals how these folktales were hijacked and misappropriated in previous incarnations, egregiously by Joel Chandler Harris, a Southern newspaperman, as well as by Walt Disney, who cannibalized and capitalized on Harris's volumes by creating cartoon characters drawn from this African American lore.

Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Franklin W. Knight, ed. 2016. Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography. Oxford University Press. Abstract
From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Pelé, the Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography will provide a comprehensive overview of the lives of Caribbeans and Afro-Latin Americans who are historically significant. The project will be unprecedented in scale, covering the entire Caribbean, and the Afro-descended populations throughout Latin America, including people who spoke and wrote Creole, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. It will also encompass the full scope of history, with entries on figures from the first forced slave migrations in the sixteenth centuries, to entries on living persons such as the Haitian musician and politician Wyclef Jean and the Cuban author and poet Nancy Morejón. Individuals will be drawn from all walks of life including philosophers, politicians, activists, entertainers, scholars, poets, scientists, religious figures, kings, and everyday people whose lives have contributed to the history of the Caribbean and Latin America.
The Portable Frederick Douglass
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and John Stauffer, ed. 2016. The Portable Frederick Douglass. Penguin Classics. Abstract
This compact volume offers a full course on the remarkable, diverse career of Frederick Douglass, letting us hear once more a necessary historical figure whose guiding voice is needed now as urgently as ever. Edited by renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Pulitzer Prize–nominated historian John Stauffer, The Portable Frederick Douglass includes the full range of Douglass’s works: the complete Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, as well as extracts from My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick DouglassThe Heroic Slave, one of the first works of African American fiction; the brilliant speeches that launched his political career and that constitute the greatest oratory of the Civil War era; and his journalism, which ranges from cultural and political critique (including his early support for women’s equality) to law, history, philosophy, literature, art, and international affairs, including a never-before-published essay on Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture.
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Projects