WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. historian and civil rights advocate John Hope Franklin, credited with helping create the field of African-American history, died on Wednesday at age 94, Duke University said.
Franklin’s book “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” published in 1947, is still considered the definitive account of the black experience in America. The longtime Duke professor died of congestive heart failure at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
He worked with Thurgood Marshall, later the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in the 1950s in which the Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
Franklin joined civil rights protesters in a 1965 march for voting rights led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1997, he was appointed chairman of President Bill Clinton’s One America Initiative, charged with directing a national conversation on race relations.
“Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. Obama is America’s first black president.
The grandson of a slave, Franklin’s scholarly work was informed by his first-hand experience with racism.
In a speech in 2005, he said that on the evening before he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Clinton in 1995, a woman at his club in Washington asked him to get her coat. About the same time, a man at a hotel handed his car keys to Franklin and told him to get his car.
“I patiently explained to him that I was a guest in the hotel, as I presumed he was, and I had no idea where his automobile was. And, in any case, I was retired,” Franklin said.
Dr. Franklin will be missed, but he’s left his mark.
From Duke University:
We mourn the passing of Dr. John Hope Franklin.
John Hope Franklin was the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, and for seven years was Professor of Legal History in the Law School at Duke University. He was a native of Oklahoma and a graduate of Fisk University. He received the A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in history from Harvard University. He has taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk University, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956 he went to Brooklyn College as Chairman of the Department of History; and in 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as Chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. At Chicago, he was the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982, when he became Professor Emeritus.
Professor Franklin’s numerous publications include The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South, The Free Negro in North Carolina, Reconstruction After the Civil War, and A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Ante-bellum North. Perhaps his best known book is From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, now in its seventh edition. His Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities for 1976 was published in 1985 and received the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize for that year. In 1990, a collection of essays covering a teaching and writing career of fifty years, was published under the title, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988. In 1993, he published The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century. Professor Franklin’s most recent book, My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, is an autobiography of his father that he edited with his son, John Whittington Franklin. His current research deals with “Dissidents on the Plantation: Runaway Slaves.”
Professor Franklin was active in numerous professional and education organizations. For many years he served on the editorial board of the Journal of Negro History. He also served as President of the following organizations: The American Studies Association (1967), the Southern Historical Association (1970), the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa (1973-76), the Organization of American Historians (1975), and the American Historical Association (1979). He has been a member of the Board of Trustees of Fisk University, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.
Professor Franklin served on many national commissions and delegations, including the National Council on the Humanities, from which he resigned in 1979, when the President appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He also served on the President’s Advisory Commission on Ambassadorial Appointments. In September and October of 1980, he was a United States delegate to the 21st General Conference of UNESCO. Among many other foreign assignments, Dr. Franklin served as Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University, Consultant on American Education in the Soviet Union, Fulbright Professor in Australia, and Lecturer in American History in the People’s Republic of China.
Professor Franklin was the recipient of many honors. In 1978, Who’s Who in America selected Dr. Franklin as one of eight Americans who has made significant contributions to society. In the same year, he was elected to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He also received the Jefferson Medal for 1984, awarded by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. In 1989, he was the first recipient of the Cleanth Brooks Medal of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and in 1990 received the Encyclopedia Britannica Gold Medal for the Dissemination of Knowledge. In 1993, Dr. Franklin received the Charles Frankel Prize for contributions to the humanities, and in 1994, the Cosmos Club Award and the Trumpet Award from Turner Broadcasting Corporation. In 1995, he received the first W.E.B. DuBois Award from the Fisk University Alumni Association, the Organization of American Historians’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, the Alpha Phi Alpha Award of Merit, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1996, Professor Franklin was elected to the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Frame and in 1997 he received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. In addition to his many awards, Dr. Franklin has received honorary degrees from more than one hundred colleges and universities.
Professor Franklin has been extensively written about in various articles and books. Most recently he was the subject of the film First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin. Produced by Lives and Legacies Films, the documentary was featured on PBS in June 1997.
Professor Franklin died of congestive heart failure at Duke Hospital on the morning of March 25th, 2009. He is survived by his son, John Whittington Franklin, daughter-in-law Karen Roberts Franklin, sister-in-law Bertha W. Gibbs, cousin Grant Franklin Sr., a host of nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, other family members, many generations of students and friends. There will be a celebration of his life and of his late wife Aurelia Franklin at 11 a.m. June 11 in Duke Chapel in honor of their 69th wedding anniversary. For more information on John Hope Franklin, please visit his memorial web site.