10 Things You Didn't Know About Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Gates was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, but the charges were dropped.

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1. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was born Sept. 16, 1950, in Keyser, W.Va. His father worked at the local paper mill during the day and as a janitor at a telephone company at night. His mother cleaned houses.

2. At the age of 14, Gates suffered a hairline fracture of the ball-and-socket joint in his hip while playing touch football. A white doctor misdiagnosed the injury as psychosomatic after Gates told him he wanted to become a doctor, Gates wrote in a New York Times article, "About Men: A Giant Step," in 1990. As a result of the injury, Gates walks with a cane and his right leg is more than 2 inches shorter than his left.

3. As a child, Gates said he wanted to be a Rhodes Scholar. He earned his B.A. summa cum laude in history from Yale University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge. He's received 50 honorary degrees from such institutions as Harvard University and Williams College.

4. At Yale University in 1973, he was one of 12 students selected as a Scholar of the House, a program that allows seniors to write a book or compose a symphony or follow a similar passion instead of taking classes. Gates wrote a book about Jay Rockefeller's campaign to be governor of West Virginia. (Rockefeller lost in 1972 but later served two terms as governor.)

5. Gates says John Morton Blum, a professor in Yale's history department, was his mentor. From Blum, he says, he learned a lot about writing and history. More than anyone else, the historian is responsible for "entertaining the idea remotely" that Gates could become a writer.

6. In 1973, Gates became the first African-American to receive a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship to study at Cambridge.

7. As editor-in-chief of the online magazine the Root, Gates has a background in journalism. He wrote his first column (about Little League games) at age 12 for the Piedmont Herald in West Virginia and continued to write for his high school and college newspapers. He's also written for Time magazine, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.

8. In 2006, Gates wrote and produced the PBS documentary "African American Lives," the first documentary series to use genealogy and genetic science to provide an understanding of African-American history.

9. Police arrested Gates on July 16 on charges of disorderly conduct after a confrontation with an officer at his home in Cambridge, Mass. President Barack Obama, a friend of Gates, said that the Cambridge Police Department had acted "stupidly" in the arrest.

10. Gates currently serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Gates considers himself a literary critic and educator.


  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Harvard University
  • Pulitzer.org
  • The Root
  • Gale Cengage Learning
  • CNN

Read about President Obama's comments on Gates's arrest.

Updated on 7/27/09