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Introductory Remarks for Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at African American History Month Celebration

Washington D.C.

Feb. 27, 2019

Thank you, Richard [Best], for that kind introduction. I want to thank the SEC’s African American Council and the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion for all of their efforts organizing today’s event as well as other events held this month in celebration of African American history.

As many of you know, the 2019 African American History Month theme, “Black Migrations,” focuses on the migration of people of African descent, with a particular focus on the movement that has taken place from the early 20th century to today.[1] Throughout this month, the SEC’s African American Council and Office of Minority and Women Inclusion have featured weekly biographies that highlight the influence of black migrations on the social fabric of our country.

For example, we remembered celebrated artist Jacob Armstead Lawrence who, at the young age of 23, created the “Migration Series”—a collection of 60 paintings depicting the migration of African Americans from the South to the North, from a rural setting to an urban environment.[2] We also learned more about A. Philip Randolph, a trailblazing leader and social activist who moved from Florida to New York City and became a champion for not only African American railroad employees, but for all African Americans seeking equal rights and economic justice.[3]

I firmly believe that learning about our nation’s past—both our achievements and our failings—can help us understand our present and see the great potential for our future. We are fortunate to have with us today Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is joined by his wife, Dr. Marial Iglesias, a noted scholar in her own right. Dr. Gates is one of the most visible scholars in the country who has dedicated his career to helping bring African American history and historical works to the libraries and homes of millions. He is a prolific author, literary critic, and filmmaker whose work continues to leave a lasting mark on our understanding of humanity and the American experience.

I encourage you to review Dr. Gates’s impressive biography in today’s event program. In a minute, I will highlight a few of his many accomplishments. But first I wanted to tell you that after Dr. Gates’s presentation Glenn Hutchins will join me for a fireside chat with Dr. Gates. In addition to serving as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Vice Chairman of both the Brookings Institution and the Economic Club of New York, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among a number of other positions, Glenn – together with his wife Debbie – founded the Hutchins Family Foundation. That foundation created the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution, and the Chronic Fatigue Initiative, which conducts research into the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome. In addition, the foundation created the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

Turning back to our celebrated guest, Dr. Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Many of you know him as an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder. Dr. Gates has authored and co-authored more than twenty books and sixteen documentary films, including:

  • Wonders of the African World
  • African American Lives
  • Faces of America
  • Black in Latin America
  • Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise; and
  • Africa’s Great Civilizations

His groundbreaking genealogy series, Finding Your Roots, is now in its fifth season on PBS. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award. Many of our staff watched a segment of this celebrated work just last week as part of our African American History Month programming.

Dr. Gates’s latest project is the series, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (PBS, 2019), and the related books, Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow, with Tonya Bolden (Scholastic, 2019), and Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019).

The recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Dr. Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981. In 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list, and to Ebony’s Power list on multiple occasions.

Dr. Gates earned his B.A. in English Language and Literature, summa cum laude, from Yale University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge.

A moment ago I mentioned learning from past achievements and failures—and I am going to turn that to a personal note of thanks to Dr. Gates. In our quest for a pluralistic and inclusive society where opportunity and support are broadly and fairly distributed, and our past failures, particularly in the area of race, are faced head on and remembered, I believe we need people who expand our thinking and provide us the tools to do better. With respect to our efforts here at the SEC and more broadly, I want to thank Dr. Gates for helping us on that journey. Thank you Dr. Gates.

Please join me in welcoming our honored guest, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

[1] See Association for the Study of African American Life and History Announces 2019 Black History Theme, Black Migrations, available at

[2] See “The Migration Series,” the Phillips Collection, available at:; see also Nesbett, Peter T.; DuBois, Michelle; Hills, Patricia (eds.). “Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence,” University of Washington Press in association with Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonné Project, 2000.

[3] See O’Neill, Edward A., “A. Philip Randolph, Hailed as Giant in Civil Rights Battle,” The Washington Post, May 18, 1979, available at

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