Skip Navigation

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. emerged from Mineral County, West Virginia, to become one of the leading black scholars in the nation. He was born in Piedmont in 1950, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr. and Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates. He was one of the first African-American students to attend the newly desegregated public schools of Piedmont following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Gates took an interest in local civil rights issues and with three other blacks, known as the "Fearsome Foursome," pressured the Blue Jay restaurant and nightclub to integrate.

After graduating with high marks from Piedmont High School, Gates attended Potomac State College in Keyser. He left Potomac to study at Yale University and later earned a doctorate from England's Cambridge University. Gates served in the campaign of Jay Rockefeller in his unsuccessful bid against incumbent Governor Arch Moore in 1972. After the campaign, he worked for Time magainze in London before returning to Yale to teach black studies and English. In the late 1980s, Gates taught at Cornell University.

With the publication of his 1989 book, The Signifying Monkey: Toward a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, Gates was recognized widely as one of the leading scholars of African- American studies. In 1991, Gates was named chair of Harvard University's African-American Studies Department. In 1994, Gates' award-winning book Colored People was published, chronicling his youth and the black community in Mineral County.

Gates is one of the most respected black literary scholars and has co-edited a series of critical perspectives on authors such as Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston. He is also co-editor of The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature.

Biographies of Prominent African Americans in West Virginia

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History