The story behind Henry Louis Gates' limp: What happened to him?

Olivia Olphin February 17, 2021
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

How did Henry Louis Gates get his limp? Gates’ new four-part series The Black Church premiered this Tuesday, 16 February, on PBS. The show covers a wide range of topics, including culture, religion and politics, and the African American experience.

Who is Henry Louis Gates?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a renowned Harvard Scholar who was born on 16 September 1950 in Keyser, West Virginia.

His father worked in a paper mill and as a janitor, while his mother cleaned houses. Gates achieved a degree in history from Yale University in 1973, while also taking a leave of absence to visit Africa and work as an anaesthetist in a hospital in Tanzania.

Gates also attended Clare College, Cambridge where he opted to study his doctorate in literature rather than history. He is well known for finding and recovering lost literary works by African American authors, as well as for his pioneering theories about African and African American literature.

Gates now hosts Finding Your Roots on PBS as well as an executive producer, host and writer on The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song.

In an interview about the programme, he explained:


“Despite all the trials and tribulations that Black people have had to suffer, the church has survived, it’s grown, it’s morphed, it’s transformed, and we’re still here.”

Why does Henry Louis Gates limp?

As The Black Church puts him back in the media spotlight, some viewers want to know the story behind Henry Louis Gates’ limp.

When Gates was 14, he suffered a crippling injury which needed multiple operations. These surgeries left him with a permanent limp.

This injury was sustained while playing football. He had a hairline fracture of the ball and socket joint of his hip, which was initially misdiagnosed as psychosomatic (a physical or mental illness cause by mental conflict or stress).

In the past, Gates wrote about this misdiagnosis being influenced by racist biases, after he had told his doctor that he too wanted to study medicine.

His right leg is now two inches shorter than his left and he needs a cane to get around.

Olivia Olphin is an English Literature graduate and a film and literature fanatic. She has many years of reviewing experience, recently working as accredited press for the London Film Festival. She has also written widely about culture and sex education, as well as LGBTQ+ and women's issues.