John Hope Franklin: Freedom Award winner speaks out

Historians in the News

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the nation's separate-but-equal schools in 1954, Dr. John Hope Franklin briefly thought it was a new day for black America.

"I was very optimistic for about 15 minutes. Southern senators met the next day and said they would oppose it with all their mights," says Franklin, the historian who had prepared the legal history used as background for the Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit in Topeka, Kan.

Fifty-three years later, Franklin, 92, has grown increasingly vocal in his anger at a country in which he says racism is still a fact of life practiced in a political system trying to spread its principles -- sometimes by force -- to the rest of the world.

A Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Franklin will add to his honors Tuesday when he receives a National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. It will be with co-winners Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr., the basketball legend, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the grandmother who became known as the "Iron Lady" of Liberia when she was elected as the first female president of an African nation in 2005.

For Franklin, the award is one of dozens he has accepted since earning a doctorate at Harvard University in 1941. By the time he worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to develop the Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit, Franklin already had cemented his stature as a historian with the 1947 book "From Freedom to Slavery: A History of African Americans," internationally recognized as the Bible of black history in America.
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