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Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., born September 16, 1950, is one of the leading African-American intellectuals in the United States. Born in Keyser, he grew up in Piedmont, Mineral County. Gates began his undergraduate studies at Potomac State College and completed them at Yale University. He received a Ph.D. in English at Cambridge University. In 1981, he received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius award.

The author of The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), a landmark work that won the American Book Award and helped to define the emerging discipline of Black studies, Gates has since written a number of books including Colored People: A Memoir (1994) which describes his experiences growing up in Mineral County. In 1999, Gates edited Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and the African-American Experience, also issued in CD-ROM as Encarta Africana. Black in Latin America, published in 2011, examined the cultural history and lasting impact of African slaves who were taken to Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Peru. The six-part PBS documentary The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. received a 2013 Peabody Award and a 2014 Emmy Award. In 2022, he was again nominated for an Emmy as executive producer of Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches (HBO).

Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. He has also taught at Yale, Cornell and Duke. He has served as general editor for several groundbreaking projects, including the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. A cultural and political commentator, Gates writes for such publications as The Village Voice, Harper’s, and The New Yorker.

Since 2012, he has hosted Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (PBS), in which he discusses the results of genealogical and genetical research with various celebrities.

This Article was written by Linda Tate

Last Revised on August 09, 2023


Gates, Henry Louis. Colored People: A Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Cite This Article

Tate, Linda "Henry Louis Gates Jr.." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 August 2023. Web. 17 July 2024.


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