Colored People Summary
by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Start Your Free Trial

Download Colored People Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Colored People Summary

Colored People is an autobiographical account of author Professor Henry Louis Gates's life during the 1950s and 60s. It is divided into six sections, with the first section highlighting his upbringing in small-town Piedmont, West Virginia. In this town, black people did not have access to the wider job market and could only get jobs at a local paper mill.

Life in Piedmont consisted of a peaceful form of segregation until the Civil Rights movement changed the town over time. The second section details the dichotomy between human and racial issues. For example, the title, Colored People,references how Gates's extended family members, including the wider community, clung to the idea of being colored but saw no worth in their humanity. Moreover, many older black people during this time supported segregated institutions, which fostered tensions with the next generation, as young black people fought for integration.

Gates participated in the Civil Rights Movement and challenged segregation in his social life. For instance, he coupled with a white woman and sought to integrate a local college hangout with the help of his friends. The final chapter covers the loss of the last colored mill and its ritual picnic. The black community within Piedmont saw this as a loss and blamed the Civil Rights Movement for ushering in a change they never wanted.