Editor’s note: This article was originally published in South Africa’s Rand Daily Mail.
When Henry Louis Gates Jr. applied for admission as a student at Yale University, he felt the need to include the following personal statement in his application: “My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro and I am black. As always, whitey sits in judgment, preparing to cast my fate. It is your decision to either let me blow with the wind as a nonentity or to encourage the development of self. Allow me to prove myself.”
He was accepted, marking the beginning of a highly successful academic career for the man today popularly known as “Skip,” even by his students at Harvard University.
His outspokenness on issues of social justice and dedication to documenting African-American and African history have ensured his reputation as one of the foremost public intellectuals in the U.S.
The highly accomplished professor and award-winning filmmaker has, over the decades, been a recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees and numerous prizes. This week it was the turn of the University of Cape Town to award him with an honorary doctorate in literature for his contribution to academia. In an interview a few hours before the graduation ceremony, Gates—who is […] the founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard—sounded elated by the honor.
“UCT is potentially the best university on the continent of Africa, one of the greatest in the world, and to be chosen is one of the greatest honors of my life,” he said.
Gates’ fascination with the continent dates back several decades to the time when, as a 19-year-old, he lived briefly in Tanzania as a student. As an undergraduate student at Yale, he kept a Free Nelson Mandela poster in his room and was involved in mobilizing support for the struggle, he said. “I refused to come here before Mandela was free, not that anybody was sending me a bunch of invitations,” he joked. But three years after Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison, Gates made a quick stop in the country on his way to shoot the Great Railway Journeys documentary series for the BBC in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Source: The Root | S’THEMBISO MSOMI