NYT editorial takes note of John Hope Franklin's death





Every death leaves a conversation unfinished. The one I regret not finishing with the historian John Hope Franklin, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, focused on what it was like to be a rising black intellectual in the Jim Crow South. In particular, I wanted to hear more about Dec. 7, 1941, the day he and his wife, Aurelia, drove from Charleston, S.C., to Raleigh, N.C. — covering the better part of two states — before they reached home and learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Clearly, the car had no radio. But wouldn’t they have heard the news when they stopped to gas up and get something eat? No, he said; I had misunderstood the period. Black families motoring through the Jim Crow South packed box lunches to avoid the humiliation of being turned away from restaurants. They relieved themselves in roadside ditches because service-station restrooms were often closed to them. They worried incessantly about breakdowns and flat tires that could leave them stranded at the mercy of bigots who demeaned and wished them ill.

“You took your life into your hands every time you went out on the road,” he said. It was, of course, a relief to come upon a black-owned service station. But he said that you could drive from Charleston quite nearly to Baltimore before finding one.

We had that conversation in 2006, in connection with an article I wrote for this page on his powerful autobiography “Mirror to America.” I had known him for more than 30 years by that time. I had long been aware that he had reshaped the scholarship of the South and had given birth to African-American history with books such as “From Slavery to Freedom,” “The Militant South, 1800-1860” and his groundbreaking work on free Negroes in antebellum North Carolina....


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