Professor Gates - funny and a big draw
The media rush was on by 11 am Sunday morning at the Chilmark Community Center, as a dozen early rising souls chased the next chapter in the Gatesgate saga.
National, regional, and local press were out in force, hoping to catch Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. for a fresh sound bite in an unguarded moment, following the Harvard University professor's recent arrest in front of his own Cambridge house.
That fiasco set off a national racially charged firestorm and led to White House "peace talks" last week between a Cambridge cop and one of Harvard's most famous dons.
By 10 am Sunday, Fox News had an early camera in place on the left wing of the podium. (The left wing? What was the cameraman thinking?). The Associated Press assigned a hardnosed reporter and a photographer from its Boston bureau. Time magazine sent a very serious young man with very deep questions.
They joined reporters and photographers from the Cape Cod Times, the Vineyard Gazette, the Martha's Vineyard Times, and Plum TV, mixed with an overflow crowd of 300 fans gathered to hear Mr. Gates discuss his new book, "In Search of Our Roots," at the Chilmark Book Fair.
Alas, with legal pal Alan Dershowitz in the audience, the biggest Gatesgate news nugget was that the White House served Boston's own Sam Adams beer to Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley and Mr. Gates, a Mellon scholar and acclaimed professor of African-American Studies.
In his 45-minute lecture, Mr. Gates showed up as an engaging, often wildly funny speaker, moving nimbly between stand-up quality humor on his life and times and a serious message about racial profiling as well as the mysteries, secrets, and new perspectives on racial identity uncovered in his work on black genealogy in America.
He showed up as a facile speaker, connecting the dots between his recent public circus and the DNA-driven message in his recent work - that we're all a lot more racially similar than we thought.
For example, Mr. Gates's West Virginia family - freedmen since 1760 and fighters in the Revolutionary War - includes European, mostly Irish or English, branches.
So do 20 percent of all African-American families, Mr. Gates said with an impish grin, inferring the prospect of shared ethnic roots with Sergeant Crowley, the arresting Cambridge police officer who he described "as a really nice guy when he's not arresting you."
Following his speech, the press gaggle trooped behind Mr. Gates to the book signing tent where a waiting crowd had bought every copy brought to the event by Edgartown Books. The gaggle waited to waylay the author on his way to his car and a trip to the beach for which he was clearly longing.
To The Times reporter seeking possible deeper racial and political overtones to President Obama's Vineyard visit, Mr. Gates said thoughtfully, "I think he likes it here."
He firmly rebuffed AP questions on his arrest: "As I said earlier, I have nothing further to say," he said, as he kept the line moving toward the parking lot and his day at the beach.