Henry Gates

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. is 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, and chaired the Department of African and African American Studies from 1991 to 2006. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, and of The Root, an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture, and genealogy.

Before joining the faculty of Harvard in 1991, he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke.

He is a board member of the New York Public Library, the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.

July 2009 arrest and aftermath

On Thursday, July 16th, 2009, he was arrested outside his home for disorderly conduct. According to the official police report Sgt. James Crowley had been responding to a call from neighbour Lucia Whalen that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks attempting to force their way into the residence. Sgt. Crowley then observed an older black man standing in the foyer of the residence in question, later identified to be gates. According to the report, Sgt. Crowley asked the man to step out onto the porch to speak with him, to which the man replied "No I will not." after which he demanded that Sgt. Crowley identify himself. Sgt. Crowley then told him that he was investigating a possible break in progress, which Gates interrupted with "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?". Crowley continued to ask routine questions, inquiring about any other people in the residence and asking to see identification. Gates remained uncooperative and demanded to see Sgt. Crowley's identification first, all the while yelling threats. After ascertaining that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, Sgt. Crowley told Gates that he was going to leave the residence. Gates responded with "Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside". As Sgt. Crowley left the residence Gates continued to follow him and shouting that he was a racist cop, and that "you haven't heard the last of this". Sgt. Crowley then warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly which Gates ignored, and continued to yell in full public view.

The Cambridge Police Department has since dropped all charges against Professor Gates, and released him. Since then Gates has gone on several high level news media outlets claiming that Sgt. Crowley is a racial police officer, and that race is what motivated the arrest. He has publicly asked Sgt. Crowley to apologize for his actions. President Barack Obama is on record as saying "The Cambridge Police acted stupidly". Obama has also acknowledged that Gates is a friend of his.

Sgt. Crowley, in a radio interview, stated that what his actions were justifiable in the situation. He explains that he asked for Gates to speak with him outside for his personal safety, and the safety of Gates. He explained that, had Gates been attempting to break in, he didn't want to be alone in the house with him, and if not, he wanted to get Gates out of the house in case anyone had managed to break in and was still there. He said that he will offer no apology, and claims that Gates was out of line in his actions. "That apology will never come from me as Jim Crowley. It won't come from me as sergeant in the Cambridge Police Department," Crowley told Boston radio station WEEI. "Whatever anybody else chooses to do in the name of the city of Cambridge or the Cambridge Police Department, which are beyond my control, I don't worry about that. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for."

The commissioner for the Cambridge Police Department has said that the incident is regrettable, but that Sgt. Crowley had responded as his training dictated.

In a statement, the International Association of Chiefs of Police expressed disappointment in Obama's remarks. "Police chiefs understand that it is critically important to have all the facts on any police matter before drawing conclusions or making any public statement," said Russell B. Laine, association president and chief of the Algonquin, Illinois, police department, in the statement. "For these reasons, the IACP was disappointed in the president's characterization of the Cambridge Police Department."

Honors and awards

  • MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” (1981)
  • George Polk Award for Social Commentary (1993)
  • Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans” list (1997), a National Humanities Medal (1998)
  • election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999)
  • the Jefferson Lecture (2002), a Visiting Fellowship at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2003-2004)
  • Jay B. Hubbell Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association (2006),
  • Rave Award from Wired Magazine (2007)
  • Let’s Do It Better Award from of the Columbia University School of Journalism for “African American Lives” (2007)
  • Cultures of Peace Award from the City of the Cultures of Peace (2007).

He has received 49 honorary degrees, from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Williams College, Emory University, Howard University, University of Toronto, and the University of Benin. 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.


  • B.A. summa cum laude, History, Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, in 1973; Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year.
  • M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, and . He became a member of