Category Archives: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Louis Henry Gates, Jr. presents lecture for the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences Lecture Series

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

On Thursday, November 10th, I attended the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences lecture featuring Dr. Louis Henry Gates, Jr. of Harvard University. The title of his lecture was: “African American Lives: Genetics, Geneaology, and Black History.” Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphones Fletcher University Professor and director of the W.E. B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Gates earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, and his B.A. summa cum laude in history from Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, in 1973. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Yale. Before joining the faculty of Harvard in 1991, he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke Universities.

At the beginning of his lecture, Dr. Gates introduced his upcoming film production for PBS entitled, “African American Lives 2.” This is second part series in which he traces the geneaologies through the record books and genetically of several newsworthy and celebrity African Americans like Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, Don Cheatam and Morgan Freeman. After the short film introduction, Dr. Gates shared his own life history and geneaology stating that he found records of the oldest family member of the Gates — Jane Gates (1819-1888). At an early age (9yrs. old), apparently, Dr. Gates said that he was interested in his family history and wanted to know more. He talked about his father’s humor and acknowledged his respect for him. Years later, after he saw the movie, “Roots,” (1977) by Alex Haley, he wanted to become the next Alex Haley.

Now Dr. Henry Louis Gates can conduct a complete geneaological profile of individuals based upon state and federal records of African Americans along with analyzing one’s DNA profile. There are three components that gets analyzed in one’s genetic profile. They are: 1. Y chromosome, 2. Mitochondria DNA, and 3. Admixture. The Y chromosome helps identify the male history and the Mitochondria DNA helps to identify the female history. According to Dr. Gates and based upon his genetic profile, he is predominantly 56% European, 37% African American and 7% Native American. He states that many African Americans believe that they have Native American relatives in their geneaological chart yet this may not be correct. Dr. Gates said that approximately 5% of African Americans have Native American ancestry.

Dr. Gates emphasized how much easier it is to get your own geneaology analyzed. He mentioned “Ancestry.com,” “23 and me” and “Roots. com” as the best places to get your geneaology completed. Finally, Dr. Gates highlighted that he will have his own weekly Televison show premiering this January 2012 on PBS. Dr. Gates also likes to “name drop” that is, he mentioned often the celebrities that he knows like Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Tina Turner, Quincy Jones and of course Barack Obama.

Interestingly, during the question and answer session, the first question came from a gentleman who asked about “Reparations.” He said that Dr. Gates had supported for the U.S. government consider reparations for all current African Americans yet now he has changed his opinion. Dr. Gates responded that he had indeed changed his opinion and now believes that affirmative action initiatives are the best way to “pay back” African Americans. Another question came from a 11 year-old African American boy and he asked “Will race be an issue all the time in our country?” Dr. Gates responded by saying unfortunately it will continue to be during his lifetime. He had also mentioned that now that the country has elected a black man as president, we still have problems with racism in the country.

Dr. Gates final statement at the end of his lecture regarding the diversity of the African American population and the admixture of all U.S. populations over the centuries and the present — “Everybody’s all mixed up.”