John Hope Franklin: Feted at Duke University

Historians in the News

Lauren Hunt, in the Duke University Chronicle (1-21-05):

Candles, balloons and gifts. This weekend, Duke can expect much birthday cheer as the campus celebrates distinguished John Hope Franklin’s 90th birthday.

The celebration of the James B. Duke professor emeritus of history will feature two photography exhibits chronicling his life, a panel discussion with two of Franklin’s former students, and culminate in performances by the Fisk University Jubilee singers.

After publishing his first work at 23, Franklin has since chronicled American history in his 20 books and 100 articles. His current research deals with runaway slaves from early southern plantations.

After 70 years of study, Franklin has covered a large variety of subjects but still believes there is more to be discovered. “I’d like to see more exploration of obscure subjects. There is history all around—right here, a history of Durham,” he said.

Not only does Franklin study history, but over his distinguished career, he has become a part of history as well. Recently, Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma declared Dec. 1 John Hope Franklin Day and named him a “cultural treasure” of Oklahoma. Other honors include the first W.E.B. DuBois Award from Fisk University, the Cosmos Club Award, the Trumpet Award from Turner Broadcasting Corporation, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1947, Franklin established himself as a premier historian with his book From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans.

Although Franklin is well-known for his extensive work in African-American history, it is not his only focus. “I write all over the field,” he said. He pointed out that his “work on runaway slaves is about white people as slaveholders as much as it is about black people.”

Due to Franklin’s ability to analyze history objectively, his research became influential during the period of civil rights legislation and race relation examinations in the United States. For example, in 1954, then Legal Counselor for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Thurgood Marshall, selected Franklin to write a series of articles for the Brown v. Board of Education case. More recently, former President Bill Clinton chose Franklin to chair the advisory board for “One America: The President’s Initiative on Race.” This initiative sought to create constructive dialogue and develop actions that addressed racial disparities in education, economic opportunity, housing, health care and the administration of justice.

While traveling the nation and speaking with community groups and student leaders to get a sense of race relations in the United States, the advisory board faced opposition. “Some said we were bad choices and it was a bad idea to discuss race,” Franklin said. But even without complete support, the board accomplished its task to begin a dialogue about race in America and start education programs for community groups. “We had more than 500 campus organizations involved in carrying on dialogue, and some are still in existence today,” he pointed out.


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