John Hope Franklin: NYT Interview





Q. As a renowned scholar of African-American history, a field that some say you virtually invented, how do you think Hurricane Katrina has altered our view of race in this country? The tragedy is that Katrina changed our view at all.

We should have known the things that Katrina brought out.

Q. Like the fact that blacks in New Orleans live in the lowest and most flood-prone elevations, while whites occupy the higher and safer land?

Yes, but we don't have any interest in that. We have more interest in who won the last football game, and who won the last basketball game, and who's on TV, and who's in Hollywood. It's a fundamental problem of this country today, the lack of critical thinking and judgment on the part of the American citizens.

Q. Lawrence F. Kaplan just published an essay in which he laments the decline of national greatness not among our leaders but among our citizens, among ordinary Americans who have lost all sense of civic responsibility.

It was never any different. It has been the same since 1619. That was when the first ships arrived from West Africa with blacks on them. We got off to a bad start right then!

Q. How can you, as a man who was born in Oklahoma at a time when lynchings were common, and who later worked with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that outlawed segregation in public schools, claim that we have made no progress in advancing the rights of African-Americans?

I'm not saying that! I'd jump out the window if I thought we had made no progress. What I am saying is that the changes have been superficial, and we are still a segregated society when it comes to schools and the neighborhoods where we live....


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