ARLINGTON, VA; May 11, 2021 — Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. today received the PBS Beacon Award in recognition of his leadership, service and work, which continues to inspire Americans and enrich the cultural fabric of our nation.
An Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic and institution builder, Gates has authored or co-authored 25 books and created 23 documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise and Africa’s Great Civilizations.FINDING YOUR ROOTS, his groundbreaking genealogy series now in its seventh season on PBS, has been called “one of the deepest and wisest series ever on television,” leveraging “the inherent entertainment capacity of the medium to educate millions of Americans about the histories and cultures of our nation and the world.” Gates also currently serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.
“Professor Gates has brought new light to the people, events and institutions that shaped American history, and his collective body of work has deepened our understanding of our national identity," said Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS. "His extraordinary contributions to African and African American studies will serve as an essential historical record for generations."
His many contributions have not gone unrecognized. Gates’s six-part PBS documentary series, THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (2013), which he wrote, executive produced and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and NAACP Image Award. His series RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR(PBS, 2019) was a winner of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and his related book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019), was a New York Times Notable Book of 2019. Gates’s newest film series is THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG(PBS 2021), with a Penguin Random House companion book published under the same title.
The recipient of 58 honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Gates was a member of the first class awarded “Genius Grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list in 1997, to Ebony’s Power 150 list in 2009, and to Ebony’s Power 100 list in 2010 and 2012.
Gates earned his B.A. in History, summa cum laude, from Yale University in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge in 1979. In 2018, he was one of 15 alumni of African descent honored in the exhibition Black Cantabs: History Makers at the Cambridge University Library. He also is an Honorary Fellow, Clare College at the University of Cambridge.
He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and serves on a wide array of boards, including the New York Public Library, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Aspen Institute, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of America and the Brookings Institution. In 2017, the Organization of American States named Gates a Goodwill Ambassador for the Rights of People of African Descent in the Americas. In 2011, his portrait, by Yuqi Wang, was hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The PBS Beacon Award, formerly known as the Be More Award, was established in 2004. Former awardees include Fred Rogers (2004), Jim Lehrer (2005), Bill Moyers (2006), Neil DeGrasse Tyson (2008), Ken Burns (2009), Joan Ganz Cooney (2010), Rebecca Eaton (2011), Gwen Ifill (2012), Alberto Ibarguen (2013), Miles O’Brien (2014), David Fanning (2015), Newton Minow (2016), Bill Isler (2017), Stanley Nelson (2018) and Judy Woodruff (2019).
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