Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., (born September 16, 1950) is an American literary critic, educator, scholar, writer, editor, and public intellectual. He was the first African American to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his teaching, research, and development of academic institutions to study black culture. In 2002, Gates was selected to give the Jefferson Lecture, in recognition of his "distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities." The lecture resulted in his 2003 book, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley.
As the host of the 2006 and 2008 PBS television miniseries African American Lives, Gates explored the genealogy of prominent African Americans. Gates sits on the boards of many notable arts, cultural, and research institutions. He serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, where he is director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Michael Kinsley referred to him as "the nation's most famous black scholar." However he is criticized as non-representative of Black people by prominent African-American scholars such as John Henrik Clarke, Molefi Asante and Maulana Karenga.
Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia, to Pauline Augusta Coleman and Henry Louis Gates, Sr. He grew up in neighboring Piedmont, the inspiration for his best-selling memoir Colored People. At the age of 14, Gates was injured while playing touch football, fracturing the ball and socket joint of his hip, resulting in a slipped epiphysis. The injury was misdiagnosed by a physician who told Gates's mother that his problem was psychosomatic. When the physical damage finally healed, Gates' right leg was two inches shorter than his left. Because of the injury, Gates uses a cane to help him walk.