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CROWD TURNS OUT TO HEAR AFRICAN-AMERICAN SCHOLAR HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.

More than 500 people packed Webb University Center's North Cafeteria to hear Henry Louis Gates Jr. talk about "bridging the digital divide" Thursday night. The Harvard professor and African-American scholar spoke as part of the university's annual Martin Luther King Jr. observance which was rescheduled from Jan. 18.

Gates covered the gamut - from politics (he said he'd keep voting for Clinton based on Clinton's ability to say anything in public), the judicial system ("the most racist part of society"), relationships, the Internet ("everyone on the internet is black"), racism and being yourself during an afternoon session with Old Dominion students.

Gates is the author of several books, including "13 Ways of Looking at a Black Man" (1997), "Colored People: A Memoir" (1994) and "Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars" (1992). He is also the key force behind the creation of Microsoft's Encarta Africana, a CD-ROM encyclopedia featuring more than 3,000 articles and 2,500 videos, audio clips, maps and photos about African-American personalities, history and events.

"I feel passionately about fighting for the rights of black people," said Gates to a small group of students Thursday afternoon in the Webb University Center Board Room. "I am no less black than you are simply because we disagree on an ideology. To show respect, even if we disagree, that's what being a scholar is."

Although he is offended by the Confederate flag, he believes in free speech. He believes that government shouldn't have a place in issues such
as abortion or sexual preference.

"There are 35 million African Americans and there are 35 million ways to be black," the 49-year-old said, encouraging students to be themselves.

"I don't care what people think about me. I have a strong family and good friends who love me and that's all that matters," he added.

Gates joined Harvard University nine years ago, as the director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research and the DuBois Professor of Humanities. Under his leadership, Harvard's black studies department was revived after languishing some 20 years.

He has attracted the likes of Cornell West and William Julius Wilson to Harvard University. "I call it the dream team," he added, explaining how he lured West away from Princeton University.

When asked about racism, particularly as it relates to the digital divide, Gates explained that it is all about who is going to get the money.

"It all breaks down to economic prosperity," he said. "The root cause of racism is economics."

This article was posted on: January 28, 2000

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