Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, was recently honored with the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Prize, an esteemed award for the world’s most talented creatives and thought leaders. The award was presented by the Creativity Collaboration, a joint program of Smithsonian Associates and the Creativity Foundation, and the ceremony was held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in New York April 13.
“Henry Louis Gates Jr. was chosen for the award for his important work in the areas of arts and criticism, humanities and historical research, genetic science, documentary film, and public service,” Smithsonian Associates indicated in a statement. “He exemplifies the spirit that inspired the Creativity Laureate Award—the multidisciplinary creativity of Benjamin Franklin.”
The awards night included a discussion between Gates and Harvard African American studies scholar Brandon M. Terry, where the honoree reportedly talked about his career and passions.
Gates, who is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, and journalist, has been a trailblazer in using media to ensure the narratives of black history are not forgotten. His successful PBS documentary, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, and his show, Finding Your Roots, where guests have included entertainment, media, and business industry heavy-hitters including Oprah Winfrey, Nas, Donna Brazile, and Soledad O’Brien, have both continued the legacy of exploring the human connection and how heritage and history play vital roles in self-identity. He has also penned or co-written more than two dozen books and created many documentary films exploring black history and intellectualism, as well as furthering the commemoration of the African American experience.
Gates is also the winner of a Peabody Award, Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, and an NAACP Image Award for his television work, and he’s written for media powerhouses including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time. He helmed the creation of the Oxford African American Studies Center, now more than 10 years old and one of the most comprehensive and innovative online resources for information on the history of blacks in the U.S. He has also received grant funding to develop a Finding Your Roots curriculum at Harvard, where students will learn the correlations between science and genealogy. He has held teaching posts at institutions including Duke University, Cornell University, and Yale University. The West Virginia native is a graduate of Yale University and holds a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England.
He joins a prestigious list of former honorees including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, entrepreneur Ted Turner, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Pulitzer Prize cartoonist Jules Feiffer, anthropologist and museum director Dr. Johnnetta Cole, social entrepreneur Bill Drayton, and social activist Tim Robbins.