Henry Louis Gates

Emmy Award Winning Filmmaker, Cultural Critic & Journalist

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Henry Louis Gates Speaker Biography

Emmy Award Winning Filmmaker, Cultural Critic & Journalist

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is one of the United States’ most influential cultural critics and is both an eloquent commentator and formidable intellectual force on multicultural and African American issues.  He has directed the W. E. B. Institute for African and African American Research—now the Hutchins Center—since arriving at Harvard in 1991, and 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.


Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored twenty-one books and created fifteen documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, and Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series now in its seventh season on PBS. 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. His latest PBS documentary is a moving 4-hour, 2-part series entitled The Black Church.


Having written for such leading publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time, Professor Gates now serves as chairman of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine he co-founded in 2008, while overseeing the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field. He has also received grant funding to develop a Finding Your Roots curriculum to teach students science through genetics and genealogy. His latest book is The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.

Awards and Accolades

He has received 55 honorary degrees, from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University and Howard University. 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 also 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 2006, he was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution, after he traced his lineage back to John Redman, a Free Negro who fought in the Revolutionary War.


Dr. Gates 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.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is widely acknowledged for taking African American studies beyond the ideological bent and bringing it into a scholarly sphere that is equivalent to all other disciplines.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

Henry Louis Gates Speaking Topics

Finding Your Roots

Based on his groundbreaking PBS series of the same name, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. shares insights from his influential series about genealogy, genetics, and history’s impact on our lives today. This keynote features a stunning visual presentation, including Professor Gates’ favorite moments from the show, such as the memorable appears of the late Congressman John Lewis.

DEI from Reconstruction to Today

Cultural critic and esteemed literary scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. traces the influences of the history of Reconstruction on today’s vital issues, showing how that vital period of history is a mirror for what is happening in politics and society today. Professor Gates illuminates the historical impact in our current conversations about voter suppression, the rise of racist rhetoric, and increasing bipartisanship, and offers insights about the ongoing challenges as well as opportunities facing us today.

The African American National Biography

As the Editor of the African American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press in 2008, Professor Gates provides eye-opening analysis of the text while illuminating the abiding influence of persons of African descent on the life line of America.

African American Lives: Genealogy, Genetics and Black History

A lively discussion on individual lineage and African American History in which Professor Gates addresses research, DNA analysis, and poignant family stories.

W.E.B. DuBois and The Encyclopedia Africana

In this informational and intellectually stimulating lecture, Professor Gates delves into the history of W.E.B. Du Bois's three failed attempts to edit a black encyclopedia Britannica, and our efforts to bring Du Bois's dream to fruition.

Henry Louis Gates Books

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song
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Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
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In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past
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Colored People: A Memoir
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Faces of America
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Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Your Own
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America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans
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Tradition and the Black Atlantic
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Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars
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Henry Louis Gates Videos

Henry Louis Gates Speaker Testimonials

Dr. Gates was outstanding. His speech was exactly what we were looking for. Our guests thoroughly enjoyed it. He was a delight to work with throughout the process as well.

- | Common Wealth Foundation

It was great! He was so incredibly frank and personable, and really tailored the talk to the present moment, and to Portland in particular. We have had great reviews from attendees as well – I think folks could have stayed on much longer listening to him speak! For someone who is so polished in his PBS docs, it was nice to have him speak so openly and directly about such a difficult, but painfully relevant, topic.

- | The Oregon Historical Society

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Recent Books

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song
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Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
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