By Beth Pinsker
Updated June 03, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the preface to his memoir Colored People, Henry Louis Gates Jr. remembers trying to explain the civil rights movement to his daughters. “I pointed out a motel…and said that at one time I could not have stayed there. Your mother could have stayed there, but [she] couldn’t have stayed there with me,” he writes, quietly alluding to his mixed-race marriage. With language that is almost poetic at times, Gates writes about growing up in a segregated mill town in West Virginia. The town slowly dies economically and expands socially, and Gates moves along with the tale, growing from a religious youngster into an Afro-sporting radical headed for Yale. Although personal details do not enter much into Gates’ scholarly or political writing — especially when he throws himself into the breach and writes on such controversial topics as black-Jewish relations or the structure of African-American studies programs — his memoir is full of tender reminiscences that manage to shed light on his political development without being didactic. A-