Henry Louis Gates: meet Carl Rowan

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the “Dean” of American “Public Intellectuals,” was humiliated in his own home when he was arrested recently by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in.

Some White person just couldn’t believe that a Black man could be the resident of his beautiful home on the university grounds, so they called the police to report an obviously suspicious Black man trying to force his way into the house. It’s a bad enough social disgrace that the neighbor did not know who his or her neighbor was.

What makes things worse in this case is that it appears that all the way up the chain of responsibility and all the way back down, the White folks involved behaved badly, like White folks, like out of control White folks, and yet it is the Black man who got locked up in the deal.

Prof. Gates is the director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. He has traveled the world producing documentary films about DNA and the African Diaspora. He was the chief editor of the exhaustively researched and extremely well produced “Encarta Encyclopedia Africana,” a two-disk CD-ROM. He has produced films exploring his and the DNA of other Blacks in America and helped them determine precisely where in Africa their fore-parents lived, before they were kidnapped and brought to this country in chains, to be made slaves.

“He was booked for disorderly conduct after ‘exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,’ according to a police report,” Tracy Jan reported in The Boston Globe. “Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had ‘no idea who he was messing with,’ the report said.”

Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because ‘I’m a black man in America,” according to Jan’s article.

Welcome to The Club professor. You have passed your initiation.

According to his attorney, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Dr. Gates had just returned home from a trip to China, Richard Prince reported in his online column “Journal-isms.”

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,” said Ogletree’s statement. “With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’s luggage into his home.

According to Ogletree, the good professor immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door. While he was talking to the real estate office, he observed a police officer on his front porch. “When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside.

Gates apparently remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The cop indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at the Gates address. The 58-year-old with graying beard and hair, who walks with a cane because of a bad knee, hardly fits the profile of a home burglar. Any police officer worth his salt should have seen that.

The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to yell at him. I can imagine what the good professor was thinking, if not saying: “What’s your problem? You don’t think a Black man is supposed to live in a house like this?” His was a case of “justifiable outrage,” but the cop didn’t see it that way.

“It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,'” the officer wrote in the official police report. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Right or wrong, cops wear the gun and the badge. Rub them the wrong way, and they can shoot you through the grease, causing a lot of discomfort to whomever they choose.

The same sort of thing happened once to journalist Carl Rowan who pulled a gun on some White youths trespassing in his yard and swimming pool in an exclusive all-White neighborhood. He was arrested.

My guess is that Prof. Gates will eventually be exonerated, or the police will drop the charge. And while I understand how difficult it is to take the high road in such egregious cases as this, I wish that “Skip” (as Prof. Gates is called) had done what Carl Rowan did once.

One day Mr. Rowan was cutting the grass in front of his house was asked by a neighbor who did not recognize him, either from the neighborhood, or from his frequent appearances on TV’s “Meet The Press,” and a half-dozen other Sunday TV talk-shows, the neighbor asked: “What do you charge for taking care of that lawn?”

Without missing a beat, Mr. Rowan said: “Oh I just get to sleep with the Lady of the House.”

Comments are closed.