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Colored People: A Memoir Paperback – April 11, 1995

3.7 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Award winner Gates reflects on his childhood in pre-civil rights Piedmont, W.Va.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The man touted as America's most celebrated black scholar reminisces to his daughters about his boyhood in the polluted, dying Allegheny Mountains' papermill town of Piedmont, West Virginia. Laying out the social and emotional topography of a world shifting from segregation to integration and from colored to Negro to black, Gates evokes a bygone time and place as he moves from his birth in 1949 to 1969, when he goes off to Yale University after a year at West Virginia's Potomac State College. His pensive and sometimes wistful narrative brims with the mysteries and pangs and lifelong aches of growing up, from his encounters with sexuality, to the discovery of intellectual exhilaration as he is marked to excel in school, to his suffering a crippling injury to one of his legs and struggling frightfully for his father's respect. There is much to recommend this book as a story of boyhood, family, segregation, the pre-Civil Rights era, and the era when Civil Rights filtered down from television to local reality. Highly recommended.
--Thomas J. Davis, SUNY at Buffalo
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 11, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973919X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679739197
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
So removed from my own experience but a story told with such grace, it will always be one of my favorite books. I read it when it was published some time ago and have not forgotten the real sense of place and people. As a white female wasp from New England, I'm not sure I understand why it affected me so. Lost communities that we gave up in the name of something else. On the one hand, it made me think there will always be a separateness and, on the other hand, that we all want the kind of community and gentle exchange that seemed at the heart of the people in this book. The use of the language is admirable - the writing - but it was what I took away about my own very different life that made the book memorable. It's a scholarly work in its way but simple, clear and classic.
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Format: Paperback
Personally, I had a heckuva time keeping track of all the various Gates and Coleman relatives, so I gave up after the first forty pages or so and just appreciated this memoir for what it is -- the story of a community that no longer exists but will be alive for generations through Gates' evocation of it for his children and, vicariously, the readers of this book. As a white age contemporary of Gates, I was impressed by the evenhandedness with which he tells the story of the often grudging desegregation of the late 50s and 60s in West Virginia, and surprised by the extent of black/white interaction -- sometimes positive for Gates -- in this small town, even in the days of segregation. That is obviously a function of small town life, but it struck me as more than in many parts of US life today, leading to the question I wondered about throughout this book -- whether 46 years after Brown vs. Board of Education we are more, not less, isolated by color in our social interactions in the United States. If so, that's a tragedy for all of us.
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Format: Paperback
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an extraordinary scholar, particularly on African-American issues. He was born and raised in Piedmont, West Virginia during the time of early racial desegregation and, as a black man, was directly influenced by this dramatically historical period. Gates graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with a degree in history, then received a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge.

He has written for The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Time, The New Republic, and other prominent magazines. In addition to Colored People: A Memoir, Gates has authored and co-authored several books including Figures in Black: Works, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (1987), The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997).

The preface to Colored People is a letter from Gates to his daughters, Maggie and Liza and, though the book is dedicated to his father Henry Louis Gates, Sr. and in memory of his mother Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates, the entire autobiography is written in conversational tone, as if Gates were recounting his stories not only to his daughters, but to their entire generation.

Gates' collection of memories describes the era, long since past (both for good and for bad) when blacks and whites were segregated, and the subsequent integration of these colors, and what it was like to live in that world, and be a part of it's evolution. The title Colored People is beautifully appropriate, not only for the shades of black America it represents, but for each and every one of us; black, white, red, yellow: none of us are see-through.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. invites us to live with him in Piedmont, West Virginia, and experience life-black life-through his eyes.
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Format: Paperback
This memoir had me laughing throughout, but it was also though provoking. The descriptions were so vivid, you believed you are right there in that little town witnessing Mr. Gates live and the lives of his family. I gave the book to my mother and she loved it also. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, there were alot of similarites. This book was a departure from his normal intellectual writings but no less educational.
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By A Customer on June 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a great book. No doubt about it. For those who only know Skip Gates from his combatative role in the PBS "Wonders of Africa" series, this book will be a revelation. As a memoir of a young man growing up Black in the segregated south, there are some wonderful epiphanies for people who did not have that experience. As a peice of literary writing, it's a wonderful example of craft and spirit and talent.
I don't always agree with the way in which Prof. Gates places himself in the politics of academia or the pronouncements he sometimes makes about being of color in these United States, but he sure tells a good story. Through sharing his early years, some of the complexities of the man are made understandable. I leave it to others to decide exactly what that means.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you are not familiar with Henry Gates you should read this book and his other works. Gates grew up poor in WV and has lived through the turbulent times of the 60's and the sweeping changes in civil rights. I find Mr. Gates's views on racial issues to be direct, realistic and logical. His writing appeals to me because I think he talks about race issues in America from the standpoint of someone who looks at all people as what they are - human beings with all their failings and strengths who behave in relationship to their environment. All Americans should study U.S. Black history because it allows one to understand some basic truths about ourselves as a nation - where we went wrong and how strong oppressed people can be. I recommend H.L. Gates as an excellent historian for those who want an accurate view of race in America and to study racial history. This book was a pleasant and worthwhile read.
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