Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. (born September 16, 1950) is an American literary critic, professor, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He rediscovered the earliest African-American novels, long forgotten, and has published extensively on appreciating African-American literature as part of the Western canon. In addition to producing and hosting previous series on the history and genealogy of prominent American figures, since 2012 Gates has been host of the television series ''Finding Your Roots'' on PBS. It combines the work of expert researchers in genealogy, history, and genetics historic research to tell guests about their ancestors' lives and histories.

Early life and education

Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia, to Henry Louis Gates Sr. (c.1913–2010) and his wife Pauline Augusta (Coleman) Gates (1916–1987). He grew up in neighboring Piedmont. His father worked in a paper mill and moonlighted as a janitor, while his mother cleaned houses, as described in his memoir ''Colored People'' (1994). Gates learned through research that his family is descended in part from the Yoruba people of West Africa. He has also learned that he has 50% European ancestry, including Irish forebears; he was surprised his European ancestry turned out to be so substantial. Having grown up in an African-American community, however, he identifies as Black. He has learned that he is also connected to the multiracial West Virginia community of Chestnut Ridge people. At the age of 14, Gates was injured playing touch football, fracturing the ball and socket joint of his hip, resulting in a slipped capital femoral epiphysis. The injury was misdiagnosed by a physician, who told Gates' mother that his problem was psychosomatic. When the physical damage finally healed, his right leg was two inches shorter than his left. Because of the injury, Gates now uses a cane when he walks.
Contemporary Black Biography
'. Vol. 67. Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.
Gates graduated from Piedmont High School in 1968 and attended Potomac State College of West Virginia University before transferring to Yale University, from which he graduated ''summa cum laude'' and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history. The first African American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Gates sailed on the ''Queen Elizabeth 2'' for England and University of Cambridge, where he studied English literature at Clare College and earned his PhD.


After a month at Yale Law School, Gates withdrew from the program. In October 1975 he was hired by Charles Davis as a secretary in the Afro-American Studies department at Yale. In July 1976, Gates was promoted to the post of Lecturer in Afro-American Studies, with the understanding that he would be promoted to assistant professor upon completion of his doctoral dissertation. Jointly appointed to assistant professorships in English and Afro-American Studies in 1979, Gates was promoted to associate professor in 1984. While at Yale, Gates guided Jodie Foster, who majored in African-American Literature there, writing her thesis on writer Toni Morrison. In 1984, Gates was recruited by Cornell University with an offer of tenure; Gates asked Yale if they would match Cornell's offer, but they declined. Gates moved to Cornell in 1985, where he taught until 1989. Following a two-year stay at Duke University, he was recruited to Harvard University in 1991. At Harvard, Gates teaches undergraduate and graduate courses as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, an endowed chair he was appointed to in 2006, and as a professor of English. Additionally, he is the Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research. As a literary theorist and critic, Gates has combined literary techniques of deconstruction with native African literary traditions; he draws on structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics to analyze texts and assess matters of identity politics. As a black intellectual and public figure, Gates has been an outspoken critic of the Eurocentric literary canon. He has insisted that black literature must be evaluated by the aesthetic criteria of its culture of origin, not criteria imported from Western or European cultural traditions that express a "tone deafness to the black cultural voice" and result in "intellectual racism". In his major scholarly work, ''The Signifying Monkey,'' a 1989 American Book Award winner, Gates expressed what might constitute an African-American cultural aesthetic. The work extended application of the concept of "signifyin'" to analysis of African-American works. "Signifyin'" refers to the significance of words that is based on context, and is accessible only to those who share the cultural values of a given speech community. His work has rooted African-American literary criticism in the African-American vernacular tradition. While Gates has stressed the need for greater recognition of black literature and black culture, he does not advocate a "separatist" black canon. Rather, he works for greater recognition of black works and their integration into a larger, pluralistic canon. He has affirmed the value of the Western tradition, but has envisioned a more inclusive canon of diverse works sharing common cultural connections:
"Every black American text must confess to a complex ancestry, one high and low (that is, literary and vernacular) but also one white and black ... there can be no doubt that white texts inform and influence black texts (and ''vice versa''), so that a thoroughly integrated canon of American literature is not only politically sound, it is intellectually sound as well."
Gates has argued that a separatist, Afrocentric education perpetuates racist stereotypes. He maintains that it is "ridiculous" to think that only blacks should be scholars of African and African-American literature. He argues, "It can't be real as a subject if you have to look like the subject to be an expert in the subject, adding, "It's as ridiculous as if someone said I couldn't appreciate Shakespeare because I'm not Anglo-Saxon. I think it's vulgar and racist whether it comes out of a black mouth or a white mouth." As a mediator between those advocating separatism and those believing in a Western canon, Gates has been criticized by both. Some critics suggest that adding black literature will diminish the value of the Western canon, while separatists say that Gates is too accommodating to the dominant white culture in his advocacy of integration of the canon. Gates has been criticized by John Henrik Clarke, Molefi Kete Asante and the controversial Maulana Karenga, each of whom has been questioned by others in academia.Molefi Kete Asante
"Henry Louis Gates is Wrong about African Involvement in the Slave Trade"
Asante.net, May 6, 2010.
As a literary historian committed to the preservation and study of historical texts, Gates has been integral to the Black Periodical Literature Project, a digital archive of black newspapers and magazines created with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To build Harvard's visual, documentary, and literary archives of African-American texts, Gates arranged for the purchase of ''The Image of the Black in Western Art,'' a collection assembled by Dominique de Ménil in Houston. As a result of research as a MacArthur Fellow, Gates discovered ''Our Nig'', written by Harriet E. Wilson in 1859, and thought to be the first novel written in the United States by an African American. Later, he acquired and authenticated the manuscript of ''The Bondwoman's Narrative'' by Hannah Crafts, a novel from the same period that scholars believe may have been written as early as 1853; if so, it would have precedence as the first-known novel written in the United States by an African American. (Note: ''Clotel'' (1853) is recognized as the first novel published by an African-American author, but William Wells Brown wrote and published it in London.) ''The Bondwoman's Narrative'' was first published in 2002 and became a bestseller. As a prominent black intellectual, Gates has concentrated on building academic institutions to study black culture. Additionally, he has worked to bring about social, educational, and intellectual equality for black Americans. His writing includes pieces in ''The New York Times'' that defend rap music, and an article in ''Sports Illustrated'' that criticizes black youth culture for glorifying basketball over education. In 1992, he received a George Polk Award for his social commentary in ''The New York Times.'' Gates's prominence has led to his being called as a witness on behalf of the controversial Florida rap group 2 Live Crew in an obscenity case. He argued that the material, which the government charged was profane, had important roots in African-American Vernacular English, games, and literary traditions, and should be protected. Asked by National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Bruce Cole to describe his work, Gates responded: "I would say I'm a literary critic. That's the first descriptor that comes to mind. After that I would say I was a teacher. Both would be just as important." After his 2003 NEH lecture, Gates published in the same year a book entitled ''The Trials of Phillis Wheatley,'' about the early African-American poet.

Other activities

In 1995 Gates presented a program in the BBC series ''Great Railway Journeys'' (produced in association with PBS). The program documents a 3,000-mile journey Gates took through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, with his then-wife Sharon Adams and daughters Liza and Meggie Gates. This trip came 25 years after Gates worked at a hospital in Kilimatinde near Dodoma, Tanzania, as a 19-year-old pre-medical student at Yale University. In September 1995, Gates read a five-part abridgement (by Margaret Busby) of his memoir ''Colored People'' on BBC Radio 4. Gates was the host and co-producer of ''African American Lives'' (2006) and ''African American Lives 2'' (2008) in which the lineage of more than a dozen notable African Americans was traced using genealogical and historic resources, as well as genealogical DNA testing. In the first series, Gates learned that he has 50% European ancestry"The 10 Percenter"
''The New York Times'', October 13, 2011.
and 50% African ancestry. He had known of some European ancestry but was surprised to learn the high proportion; he also learned that he was descended from John Redman, a mulatto veteran in New England of the American Revolutionary War. Gates has joined the Sons of the American Revolution. In the series, he discussed findings with guests about their complex ancestries. In the second season, Gates learned that he is part of a genetic subgroup possibly descended from or related to the fourth-century Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages. He also learned that one of his African ancestors includes a Yoruba man who was trafficked to America from Ouidah in present-day Republic of Benin. The two series demonstrated the many strands of ancestry, cultural heritage and history among African Americans. Gates hosted ''Faces of America'', a four-part series presented by PBS in 2010. This program examined the genealogy of 12 North Americans of diverse ancestry: Elizabeth Alexander, Mario Batali, Stephen Colbert, Louise Erdrich, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria, Yo-Yo Ma, Mike Nichols, Queen Noor of Jordan, Mehmet Oz, Meryl Streep, and Kristi Yamaguchi. Since 1995, Gates has been the jury chair for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, which honors written works that contribute to society's understanding of racism and the diversity of human culture. Gates was an Anisfield-Wolf prize winner in 1989 for ''The Schomburg Library of Women Writers''. Since 2012 he has hosted a PBS TV series, called ''Finding Your Roots – with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.''. The second season of the series, featuring 30 prominent guests across 10 episodes, with Gates as the narrator, interviewer, and genealogical investigator, aired on PBS in fall 2014. The show's third season was postponed after it was discovered that actor Ben Affleck had persuaded Gates to omit information about his slave-owning ancestors. ''Finding Your Roots'' resumed in January 2016. Gates's critically acclaimed six-part PBS documentary series, ''The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,'' traced 500 years of African-American history to the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. Gates wrote, executive produced, and hosted the series, which earned the 2013 Peabody Award and a NAACP Image Award.

"Ending the Slavery Blame-Game" op-ed

In 2010, Gates wrote an op-ed in ''The New York Times'' that discussed the role played by Africans in the slave trade. Gates' op-ed begins and ends with the observation that it is very difficult to decide whether or not to give reparations to the descendants of American slaves, whether they should receive compensation for their ancestors' unpaid labor and lack of rights. Gates also notes that it is equally difficult to decide who should get such reparations and who should pay them, as slavery was legal under the laws of the colonies and the United States. In an article for ''Newsweek'', journalist Lisa Miller reported on the reaction to Gates' article: The Letters page of ''The New York Times'' of April 25, 2010, featured criticism and examination of Gates's views in response to his op-ed. Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia University, considered Gates's emphasis on there being "little discussion" of African involvement in the slave trade to be unfounded, stating that "today, virtually every history of slavery and every American history textbook includes this information". Author Herb Boyd, who teaches African and African-American history at the College of New Rochelle and City College, CUNY, argued that despite the complicity of African monarchs in the Atlantic slave trade, the United States "was the greatest beneficiary, and thus should be the main compensator." Lolita Buckner Inniss, a professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, argued that notwithstanding African involvement as "abductors," it was Western slave-owners, as "captors," that perpetuated the practice even after the import trade was banned. "Up until that recent piece, people would have thought of him as someone who took a cautious and nuanced approach to questions like reparations." Gates has such an eminent reputation, she said, and "so much gravitas. Many of us were troubled."

Cambridge arrest

On July 16, 2009, Gates returned home to his residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard Square following a trip to China, only to find the front door jammed. His taxi driver attempted to help him gain entrance. A passerby called police reporting a possible break-in after describing to 911 "an individual" forcing the front door open. A Cambridge police officer was dispatched. The confrontation resulted in Gates being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the charges. The incident spurred a politically charged exchange of views about race relations and law enforcement throughout the United States. The arrest attracted national attention after U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting the 59-year-old Gates. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden eventually extended an invitation to Gates and the Cambridge officer who was involved to share a beer with them at the White House, which they accepted.

Personal life

Gates married Sharon Lynn Adams in 1979. They had two daughters together before they divorced in 1999. In 1974 Gates learned the Transcendental Meditation technique. He states: "I had a very moving experience when I got my mantra and very liberating....And all of a sudden, I had this spiritual event where it was like the top of my head opened up. And I was just overwhelmed with emotion. And tears just streamed down my face. And I was exhilarated. It was astonishing. So I know that moment of transcendence is real. I know it. I experienced it myself."

Awards and honors

*Gates has received 53 honorary degrees and numerous academic and social action awards. *Gates was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1981. *In 1989, Gates won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for editing the 30 volumes of "The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers." *In 1995, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Quincy Jones. *He was listed in ''Time'' among its "25 Most Influential Americans" in 1997. ''Ebony'' magazine listed him among its "100 Most Influential Black Americans" in 2005, and in 2009, ''Ebony'' included him on its "Power 150" list. *In 2002 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Gates for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.Jefferson Lecturers
at NEH Website. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
Gates' lecture was entitled "Mister Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley." It was the basis of his later book ''The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers'' (2003). *Gates received the National Humanities Medal in 1998. *He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999. *He received the 2008 Ralph Lowell Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the highest honor in the field of public television. *On October 23, 2006, Gates was appointed the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor at Harvard University. *In January 2008, he co-founded ''The Root,'' a website dedicated to African-American perspectives and published by The Washington Post Company. *Gates serves as the Chair for the Selection Committee for the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Fletcher Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Fletcher Asset Management. *He is on the boards of many notable institutions, including the New York Public Library, American Repertory Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, HEAF (the Harlem Educational Activities Fund), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, located in Stanford, California. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. *In 2006, Gates was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution after tracing his lineage to John Redman, a free African American who fought in the Revolutionary War. *In 2010, Gates became the first African American to have his genome fully sequenced. He is also half of the first father-son pair to have their genomes fully sequenced. Knome performed the analysis as part of the ''Faces of America'' project. *Gates's six-part PBS documentary series, ''The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross'', which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the 2013 Peabody Award and a NAACP Image Award. *In December 2014, Gates was announced as one of 14 recipients of a 2015 Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for his documentary series ''The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross''. *Gates was awarded the 2019 ''Chicago Tribune'' Literary Award, an annual recognition for lifetime achievement (past recipients including Salman Rushdie, Elie Wiesel, Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe and Joyce Carol Oates). * In 2021, Gates became the seventh recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Don M. Randel Award for Humanistic Studies.


Books (author)

* * American Book Award * * *With Cornel West, ''The Future of the Race'', New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. * * * * * * * * * * * *With Donald Yacovone, ''The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,'' SmileyBooks, 2013. * * *With Tonya Bolden, * *

Books (editor)

*With Nellie Y. McKay, ''The Norton Anthology of African American Literature''. W. W. Norton, 1996. *With Kwame Anthony Appiah, ''The Dictionary of Global Culture''. Vintage, 1998. * *With Kwame Anthony Appiah, (CD-ROM) *Hannah Crafts, ''The Bondwoman's Narrative''. New York: Warner Books, 2002. *With Hollis Robbins, ''In Search of Hannah Crafts: Essays in the Bondwoman's Narrative''. New York: Basic/Civitas. 2004. *With Hollis Robbins, ''The Annotated ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' ''. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. * *With Donald Yacovone, ''Lincoln on Race and Slavery''. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. *With Kwame Anthony Appiah, ''Encyclopedia of Africa: Two-Volume Set''. Oxford University Press, 2010. *With Maria Tatar, ''The Annotated African American Folktales'', (Liveright-W.W. Norton, 2017), *With Hollis Robbins, ''The Penguin Portable Nineteenth Century African American Women Writers'' (Penguin, 2017)




*''From Great Zimbabwe to Kilimatinde'' (narrator and screenwriter), ''Great Railway Journeys'', BBC/PBS, 1996. *''The Two Nations of Black America'' (host and scriptwriter), ''Frontline'', WGBH-TV, February 10, 1998. *''Leaving Cleaver: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Remembers Eldridge Cleaver'', WGBH, 1999. *''Wonders of the African World'' (screenwriter and narrator), BBC/PBS, October 25–27, 1999 (six-part series). **Shown as ''Into Africa'' on BBC-2 in the United Kingdom and South Africa, Summer 1999. *Credited for his involvement in ''Unchained Memories'' (2003). *''America Beyond the Color Line'' (host and scriptwriter), BBC2/PBS, February 2/4, 2004 (four-part series).''America Beyond the Color Line With Henry Louis Gates Jr.''
nbsp;– PBS (2004).
*''African American Lives'' (screenwriter, host and narrator), PBS, February 1/8, 2006 (four-hour series). *''Oprah's Roots: An African American Lives Special'' (screenwriter, narrator, and co-producer), PBS, January 24, 2007. *''African American Lives 2'' (host and narrator), PBS, February 6/13, 2008 (four-hour series). *''Looking for Lincoln'' (screenwriter, host/narrator, and co-producer), PBS, February 11, 2009. *''Faces of America'' (screenwriter, narrator, and co-producer), PBS, February 10 – March 3, 2010 (four-hour series). *''Black in Latin America'' (executive producer, writer, and presenter), PBS, April 19 – May 10, 2011. *''Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'' (executive producer, screenwriter, and host/narrator), PBS, March 2012 to present. *''The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross'' (executive producer, writer, and host), PBS, October–November 2013 (six-part series). *''Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise'' (writer, presenter, and narrator), PBS, 15 November 2016 (four-part series) *''Africa's Great Civilizations'' (executive producer, writer, and presenter), PBS, February–March 2017 (six-part series) *''Reconstruction: America After the Civil War'' (executive producer and presenter), PBS, April 9/16, 2019 (four-hour series) *''Watchmen'' (actor), HBO, October 2019 (television series) **Cameo as a digital presentation of a fictional version of himself as Secretary of the Treasury of an alternate United States

See also

* * * * Reconstruction era


External links

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Harvard Faculty webpage
Bibliography of Gates's publications and responses to it
The Root''Wonders of the African World Program with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'' – PBSArticles on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
from ''The Harvard Crimson'' *Maya Jaggi
"Henry the first"
profile of Gates in ''The Guardian'', July 6, 2002
Archive of contributions
to ''The New Yorker''
The 2009 Cambridge police arrest reportGates speaking
at the Library of Congress
Interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr
''Public School Insights'', August 19, 2008 *
at the Council on Foreign Relations {{DEFAULTSORT:Gates, Henry Louis Category:20th-century American historians Category:African-American historians Category:Historians of African Americans Category:African-American studies scholars Category:African-American non-fiction writers Category:African-American history of West Virginia Category:Alumni of Clare College, Cambridge Category:American Book Award winners Category:American essayists Category:American literary theorists Category:American male essayists Category:American non-fiction writers Category:American people of English descent Category:American people of Irish descent Category:American people of Yoruba descent Category:American documentary filmmakers Category:American genealogists Category:American literary critics Category:American online publication editors Category:American rhetoricians Category:Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellows Category:Cornell University faculty Category:Duke University faculty Category:Educators from West Virginia Category:George Polk Award recipients Category:Harvard University faculty Category:Historians from Massachusetts Category:MacArthur Fellows Category:Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Category:National Humanities Medal recipients Category:People from Keyser, West Virginia Category:People from Lexington, Massachusetts Category:People from Piedmont, West Virginia Category:Poststructuralists Category:Potomac State College alumni Category:Sons of the American Revolution Category:Television personalities from West Virginia Category:The New Yorker people Category:Writers from West Virginia Category:Yale College alumni Category:1950 births Category:Living people Category:Charles H. Revson Foundation Category:African-American television personalities