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August 19, 2008

Henry Louis Gates of African American Lives speaks to The Learning First Alliance

The Learning First Alliance recently conducted an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard Professor and creator-narrator of the African American Lives documentaries on PBS. These documentaries use genealogy and DNA research to reconstruct the family histories of famous African Americans including Oprah, Morgan Freeman and many others. Gates shares their family histories with these prominent people--who learn their family histories for the first time. The result is very moving.

Gates believes that this work has strong implications for K-12 curriculum. In the interview, he argues that schools can use DNA science and genealogical research to help African American students trace their own family history past 1870, before which the federal census did not include slave names.

Gates believes this work could reinvigorate history and science classes for African American students. He is creating curriculum to help teachers integrate this kind of research in their classes. The implications of his genealogical work are far-reaching.

In the interview, Gates says "Fifty percent of our black children are not graduating from high school. Fifty percent. That’s every other black child. So the situation is dire, and the condition is desperate. We have to try any innovation we possibly can to reach these kids. It occurred to me, given the response to “African American Lives”… You know, everybody is responding to this series. And why? Because your favorite subject is what? Yourself!"

He goes on to add "my idea is to use the fascination with one’s collective self, one’s familial self, to seduce people back into learning"

Mr. Gates new book called Search for Our Roots, which is the companion book to African American Lives 1 and “2,” will be published in February

Read the full interview online Tuesday August 19th at noon.

1 comment:

Claus von Zastrow said...

Thanks so much for writing about our interview with Gates! I wanted you to know that you included the wrong link to the interview. The interview is actually available at

The link you provided will direct people to our main organizational website, which does not contain any of our interviews.

Thanks again!