For centuries, the history of much of Africa has been hidden from the world, lost to the ravages of time, nature and repressive governments. Now, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. uncovers an Africa most people never knew existed. In WONDERS OF THE AFRICAN WORLD WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., Gates challenges the widespread Western view of Africa as the primitive "dark continent" civilized by white colonists. He shatters myths as he tells the true stories of proud lands filled with great civilizations, cities and centers of learning long before any Europeans set foot there. He also shares his poignant personal odyssey as an African American, the great-great-grandchild of slaves, returning to the cradle of black civilization. The six one-hour programs air on PBS Monday-Wednesday, October 25-27, 1999, 9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings).
"I wanted to bring this lost African world into the consciousness of the larger public, black and white," says Gates, chair of Afro-American studies at Harvard and director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research. "It's important to debunk the myths of Africa being this benighted continent civilized only when white people arrived. In fact, Africans had been creators of culture for thousands of years before. These were very intelligent, subtle and sophisticated people, with organized societies and great art."
Filmed over 12 months in 12 countries, the series takes viewers on a journey through Africa past and present. WONDERS OF THE AFRICAN WORLD is filled with unforgettable images of the breathtaking beauty of the continent and its people: the thundering falls at the source of the Blue Nile, the empty sands of the Sudan stretching to the horizon, the clove-scented shores of Zanzibar, the friendly faces of vendors in small-town market squares and the regal visage of the Queen Mother of the Ashanti royal family in Ghana.
The series companion book, written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is published by Knopf.
"He's the Second Coming," proclaims Peter Gomes, professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University. Gomes is referring to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.
Gates has been described as the most notable scholar of African-American studies in the country. At Harvard, Gates has revived a black studies department which, by many accounts, had been allowed to languish for 20 years. "I want to make it the flagship department in America," declares Gates.
He has also achieved prominence far beyond the university setting. He is the author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997), Colored People: A Memoir (1994), Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (1992), The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), and Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self (1987).
He is general editor of the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature and has edited and co-edited many other books and special issues of journals. Gates is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has published essays, reviews, interviews, and profiles in numerous other magazines, scholarly periodicals, and newspapers. He is coeditor of Transition magazine, which received the 1993 Association of American Publishers Award for "Best New Journal in the Social Sciences and the Humanities." In addition, he is on the editorial and advisory boards of a wide array of scholarly publications.
Gates graduated summa cum laude with a degree in history from Yale University in 1973. He later became the first black American to earn a doctorate at Cambridge University. He won a MacArthur foundation genius grant when he was a 30-year-old junior professor at Yale, and was given tenure at Cornell at 33. He has been awarded five honorary degrees, including one from Dartmouth.
Honors granted to Mr. Gates include: the Zora Neale Hurston Society Award for Cultural Scholarship, the Candle Award of Morehouse College, the Norman Rabb Award of the American Jewish Committee, the Golden Plate Achievement Award, the George Polk Award for Social Commentary, the Tikkun National Ethics Award, and most recently, the 1998 National Humanities Medal.
Gates has been affiliated with many esteemed organizations and universities. He has been a Mellon Fellow at the University of Cambridge and at the National Humanities Center, and a Ford Foundation National Fellow. He serves on the Schomburg Commission for the Preservation of Black Culture as well as other academic and civic boards. He has lectured all over the country - on multiculturalism, black identity, and African-American literature. "He's the dean of the black academic entrepreneurs," observes Harvard Law School professor Derrick Bell.