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-two books and created eighteen 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, Africa’s Great Civilizations, and Finding Your Roots, series five of which is currently in production. His 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.

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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-five 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 English Language and Literature, 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. 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.

Publications

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.
The African-American Century
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cornel West. 2000. The African-American Century. The Free Press. Abstract
Without Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis, we would not have jazz. Without Toni Morrison or Ralph Ellison, we would miss some of our greatest novels. Without Dr. King or Thurgood Marshall, we would be deprived of political breakthroughs that affirm and strengthen our democracy. Here, two of the leading African-American scholars of our day, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cornel West, show us why the twentieth century was the African-American century, as they offer their personal picks of the African-American figures who did the most to shape our world.
Wonders of the African World
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 1999. Wonders of the African World. Knopf. Abstract
Wonders of the African World is an exuberant, visually stunning journey across Africa and through the history of its glorious but forgotten civilizations.

Projects