Scholar to discuss African American roots, genealogy, history

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. will speak tonight at Whitman College.


WALLA WALLA -- Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, will give a lecture at Whitman College this evening. His lecture is entitled "Roots: Genealogy, Genetics and African American History."

Gates is widely recognized as a leader in African American studies. Gates also made national news when he was arrested in 2009. Gates had been suspected of trying to break into a home, but was in fact trying to get into his own home. Charges were dropped, but his arrest sparked a discussion of race relations in the U.S.

"This is a unique opportunity to both learn from and interact with a leading researcher on African American studies," said Jed Schwendiman, associate to the president at the college.

Whitman selects a speaker to come to campus each year around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Office of the President, Whitman Events Board, the Whitman Intercultural Center, and Mabel Groseclose Endowed Lectures join forces to fund the lecture.

"This year Professor Gates was selected because he is prolific author and a well known scholar on African and African American Studies," said Schwendiman.

Along with his very successful books, Gates is known for a PBS documentary series, "African American Lives," he wrote and produced. Using genealogy and science, Gates examined African American history in these documentaries.

Gates' work effectively demonstrates the importance of a liberal arts education, Schwendiman said.

"Professor Gates embodies the liberal arts ideal of following one's interests and learning across traditional disciplinary boundaries. His work and research ranges from science, to history, to literature," Schwendiman said. "He has something to offer students who are studying in almost any discipline and is an example of how we can tie knowledge from several areas together to answer important questions."

Schwendiman said he hopes the lecture will help to foster discussion of nationally and internationally important issues of race relations.

"Professor Gates' experience demonstrates that we still have important work to do in this country in the area of race relations. His visit will provide community members an opportunity to further explore and reflect on this topic," Schwendiman said.

Whitman professor Nadine Knight, who was a student of Gates at Harvard, will introduce Gates this evening.

The lecture will be in Cordiner Hall at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Joe Volpert can be reached at


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