Henry Louis Gates, Troy Davis, and Race in the 21st Century

W.E.B. Du Bois' classic 1903 work "The Souls of Black Folk" opens with "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line." Du Bois helped form the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary.


Henry Louis Gates Jr., who directs Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, knows much about the color line -- not only from his life's work, but from life experience, including last week, when he was arrested in his own home.

Gates' lawyer, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, said in a statement that the arrest occurred as Gates returned from the airport:

"Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates' luggage into his home." Both Gates and his driver are African-American. According to the Cambridge [Mass.] Police report, a white woman saw the two black men attempting to enter the home and called police.

Ogletree continued: "The officer...asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and...handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver's license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates' photograph, and the license includes his address." Police officer James Crowley reported that Gates responded to his request for identification: "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?" Despite his positive identification, Gates was then arrested for disorderly conduct.

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