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Henry Louis Gates Jr. Named Goodwill Ambassador in Global Fight for Rights of People of African Descent: While we focus on the history and legacy of slavery in the United States, it is sometimes easy to forget that the forced deportation of people of African descent is an international, cross-cultural experience that extends across borders. On April 4, in a first-of-its-kind ceremony at Harvard University, organizations dedicated to the recognition, justice and development of people of African descent named Henry Louis Gates Jr. “Goodwill Ambassador for the Rights of People of African Descent in the Americas.” As such, he will play a key role in their work fighting for the rights of the 200 million people living as Afro-descendants in the Americas. Gates’ work as a historian and advocate will serve as an integral part of the United Nations’ international effort to promote and protect the human rights of people of African ancestry. “His work has widened the acceptance of African American and African Diasporic studies, and has given it more recognition as a serious field of study,” said Louis Alamgro, secretary general of the Organization of American States. In 2014 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 68/237 proclaiming 2015-2024 as the “International Decade for People of African Descent,” urging member countries and civil society to “join together with people of African descent and take effective measures for the implementation of the program of activities in the spirit of recognition, justice, and development.” The Organization of American States—made up of the 35 independent countries in Latin, North and South America—will join with Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and its Afro-Latin American Research Institute to realize the goals of the International Decade. Gates’ work in furthering the cause of African and African-American history, research and rights spans five decades and extends around the world. In addition to serving as director of the Hutchins Center (formerly the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research) since 1991, he is founder and chairman of The Root and executive producer, writer and host of the PBS television series Finding Your Roots. In 2013 Gates wrote, hosted and executive-produced the Emmy-nominated documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which also earned the Peabody Award and an NAACP Image Award. He chaired Harvard’s Department of Afro-American Studies for 15 years, transforming it into the Department of African and African American Studies—now a full-fledged doctoral program. —Michael Harriot, The Root, April 2017
Gates was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1981.
In 1989, Gates won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for editing the 30 volumes of “The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers.”
He was listed in Time among its “25 Most Influential Americans” in 1997. Ebony magazine listed him among its “100 Most Influential Black Americans” in 2005, and in 2009, Ebony included him on its “Power 150” list.
In 2002 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Gates for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Gates’ lecture was entitled “Mister Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley.” It was the basis of his later book The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (2003).
Gates received the National Humanities Medal in 1998.
He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.
He received the 2008 Ralph Lowell Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the highest honor in the field of public television.
On October 23, 2006, Gates was appointed the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor at Harvard University.
In January 2008, he co-founded The Root, a website dedicated to African-American perspectives and published by The Washington Post Company.
Gates serves as the Chair for the Selection Committee for the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Fletcher Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Fletcher Asset Management.
He is on the boards of many notable institutions, including the New York Public Library, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, HEAF (the Harlem Educational Activities Fund), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, located in Stanford, California. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.
In 2006, Gates was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution after tracing his lineage to John Redman, a free African American who fought in the Revolutionary War.
In 2010, Gates became the first African American to have his genome fully sequenced. He is also half of the first father-son pair to have their genomes fully sequenced. Knome performed the analysis as part of the “Faces of America” project.
Gates’s six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the 2013 Peabody Award and NAACP Image Award.
In December 2014, Gates was announced as one of 14 recipients of a 2015 Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for his documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.
Gates has received 53 honorary degrees and numerous academic and social action awards.