Franklin, John Hope 1915–

views updated May 29 2018

John Hope Franklin 1915

Historian, educator, writer

At a Glance

Early Years

Seduced by History

War-Time Disillusionment

Legitimizing African American History

Revising Southern History

Civil Rights Activist

Continuing Passion

Selected writings


When John Hope Franklin arrived at the North Carolina state archives in 1939 to conduct research for his Harvard doctoral dissertation, he had to wait three days for a separate room to be prepared to segregate him from white scholars who were working there. The archives director even gave Franklin keys to the manuscript collection so the white assistants would not have to fetch documents for him. But another special office was waiting when Franklin returned for an extended visit in 1967, leading a delegation of his University of Chicago graduate students. This time it was intended as a tribute to one of Americas leading historians. I was something of a hero, he told People magazine. They didnt want me to be inconvenienced.

For more than 50 years Franklin has successfully pursued dual roles as academic scholar and social activist. Author of about a dozen books on various aspects of Southern history, including From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, the first modern survey of the important role blacks played in American history, he has edited nine other books and taught at some of the countrys most prestigious universitieslike Harvard, Cornell, Duke, Chicago, and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as at Englands Cambridge University and institutions in Australia and New Zealand. Along the way he has received more than 90 honorary degrees.

Franklin became the first black historian to hold a full-time position at a predominantly white institution when he was appointed chairman of the history department at Brooklyn College in 1956. He was the first African American to deliver a paper before the southern Historical Association, later becoming its president. He also has served as president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Studies Association, and the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa.

Actively involved in the civil rights struggle, Franklin provided invaluable historical research for Thurgood Marshall and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal defense team that won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school-desegregation case before the Supreme Court in 1954. In addition, he joined Martin Luther King, Jr.s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the denial of black voters rights, and in 1987 he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Judge Robert Borks nomination to the Supreme Court.

At a Glance

Born January 2, 1915, in Rentiesville, OK; son of Buck Colbert (a lawyer) and Mollie (a schoolteacher; maiden name, Parker) Franklin; married Aurelia E. Whittington (a librarian), June 11, 1940; children: John Whittington. Education: Fisk University, B.A., 1935; Harvard University, M.A., 1936, Ph.D., 1941. Politics: Democrat.

Instructor in history, Fisk University, 193637; professor of history, St. Augustines College, 193943, North Carolina College, 194347, and Howard University, 194756; chairman of Department of History, Brooklyn College, 195664; University of Chicago, professor of American history, 196482, Chairman of Department of History, 196770; John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor, 196982, professor emeritus, 1982; Duke University, James B. Duke Professor of History, 198285, professor emeritus, 1985, professor of legal history at Duke University Law School, beginning 1985. Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Cambridge University, England, 196263; visiting professor of history at Harvard and Cornell universities and the universities of Wisconsin, Hawaii, and California at Berkeley.

Member: American Historical Association, Southern Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, American Studies Association, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.

Selected awards: Clarence L. Holte Prize, 1986; Britannica Award, 1990; more than 90 honorary degrees.

Addresses: Office Department of History, Duke University, 20BC East Duke Building, Box 90719, Durham, NC 27708; or c/o Louisiana State University Press, P.O. Box 25053, Baton Rouge, La 708945053.

Though a strong believer in the meaningful role that scholarship can play in social change, Franklin has always stressed maintaining objectivity and established standards in all historical research. As he wrote in his preface to Race and History:

Selected Essays 19381988: While a black scholar has a clear responsibility to join in improving the society in which he lives, he must understand the difference between hard-hitting advocacy on the one hand and the highest standards of scholarship on the other. If the scholar engages in both activities he must make it clear which role he is playing at any given time.

Early Years

I could not have avoided being a social activist even if I wanted to, Franklin wrote in his autobiographical essay, John Hope Franklin: A Life of Learning, included in Race and History: Racism and financial distress would plague him throughout his childhood and adolescence.

His parents had moved to the all-black town of Rentiesville, Oklahoma, to resign from the world dominated by white people, after his lawyer father had been expelled from a courtroom solely because of his race. In this town of less than 200, Franklins father worked as a lawyer, justice of the peace, postmaster, farmer, and president of the Rentiesville Trading Company to make ends meet. Born there in 1915 where the quality of life was as low as one can imagine, Franklin grew up without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, a park, playground, or library.

But as compensation, he was introduced to the world of learning at an early age. With no one to take care of him at home, he spent his early years sitting in the rear of his schoolteacher mothers classroom, learning to read and write by the age of four. At night his father read and wrote at home. Following this example, Franklins constant nighttime reading by the light of a kerosene lamp apparently caused the poor eyesight that led to his first pair of glasses when he was five years old.

My parents would never voluntarily accept segregation, Franklin recalled in A Life of Learning. Still, growing up in segregated Oklahoma, there was no escaping it. On one shopping trip out of town, he and his mother were ejected from a train for sitting in a white coach and had to trudge home on foot through the woods.

In 1921 Franklins father moved to Tulsa alone, hoping to make a better living there at law. The family was to follow in six months. That June, a race riot burned down much of the citys segregated black section. Franklins father was unharmed, but the property he had contracted to buy for his law office was destroyed. He practiced law from a tent for several months while fighting a new city ordinance that aimed to exclude poor blacks permanently by requiring all new buildings to be constructed of expensive brick and stone. Appealing all the way to the state supreme court, he won the case. Four years later the family finally joined him. Racism continued to haunt Franklin through his teens. He received a scholarship and moved to Nashville in 1931 to attend Fisk University, a historically black college founded after the Civil War. An abusive streetcar company clerk called him a nigger for paying the fare with a $20 bill, and gave him $19.75 worth of dimes and quarters for change. After that Franklin seldom went into town, and when he did was never alone. Trouble came to Fisk instead when a young black man out riding his bicycle struck and slightly injured a white child. A white mob dragged him from his university-owned home on the edge of campus and lynched him. As president of the student government, Franklin protested to the mayor, the governor, and even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nothing was done.

Seduced by History

To Franklin, college at first was merely a way station en route route to law school and joining his father in practice. But in his first quarter, Professor Theodore S. Currier, the white chairman of the schools history department, delivered the most exciting lectures he had ever heard for a course on contemporary civilization. During his sophomore year, Franklin took two courses from Professor Currier, while forming a close personal relationship that developed into a deep friendship. Soon his law school plans were forgotten, replaced by a desire to study, write, and teach history.

Currier became the most important influence in Franklins life. To stimulate and train his prize pupil, the professor offered new courses and seminars. He encouraged Franklin to apply for graduate study at Harvard, where he had gone. Franklin was admitted after graduating from Fisk in 1935, apparently the first time a student from a historically black institution was allowed to attend without first proving himself with some undergraduate work at Harvard itself. The university, however, did not offer him a scholarship.

In the depths of the Great Depression, Franklins family was unable to offer him more than a token amount of money to attend Harward in far away Massachusetts. He thought of attending the University of Oklahoma close to home, but that school would not admit a black to graduate study. Professor Currier took matters into his own hands, borrowing $500 from a Nashville bank to send Franklin on his way. It was a good investment, the late professor once told People magazine.

There were few other blacks at Harvard. Franklin took a room with a local black family and a job washing dishes for his evening meals. He received his masters degree in nine months and won fellowships to complete his Ph.D. requirements. Finding the course of study far from extraordinary, he left Harvard in 1939 to teach at St. Augustines College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two years later he completed his dissertation on free blacks in North Carolina and received his doctoral degree.

War-Time Disillusionment

Shortly thereafter the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was drawn into World War II. Hearing that the U.S. Navy desperately needed volunteers to handle office work, Franklin went to its Raleigh recruiting office. Despite his qualifications (three gold medals in typing, six years secretarial experience in college and graduate school, a course in accounting, and shorthand experience) and the wartime emergency, he was lacking in one important qualificationthe right color skin. Rejected, he turned to the War Department, then assembling a staff of historians to record the definitive history of the conflict. Several whites without advanced degrees had already been signed up, but Franklin, with a book in press, never had his application answered.

At the physical ordered by his draft board in 1943, he was not permitted to enter the doctors office and was told to wait outside by the fire escape. Concluding that the government obviously did not need his services, Franklin spent the remainder of the war outwitting the military by taking a teaching position at North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, whose president was on the local draft appeal board.

Two later incidents confirmed his judgment about the extent of racial discrimination in the United States. First, while standing in the overcrowded black half coach of a North Carolina train in 1945, he noticed only six men in the adjoining whites-only full-sized coach. Asking the conductor if the two groups could switch coaches, he was told the men were German prisoners of war and could not be moved. Later, when visiting the Louisiana state archives following V-J Day, he learned that blacks were not permitted entry. But since the archives were closed for a week to celebrate victory over the totalitarian Nazis and Japanese, he was unofficially allowed inside to pursue his research.

Legitimizing African American History

An editor at the New York publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf first approached Franklin in the mid-1940s to write a history of black Americans. But Franklin, engaged in research on the Souths militant culture, turned him down. The editor persisted, even visiting Franklin in North Carolina, finally convincing him to write the book. Now in its sixth edition, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans has sold more than two million copies since appearing in 1947 and has been translated into French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.

When I began to write in 1945, there were few courses in black history and hardly any materials, Franklin recalled 45 years later in Southern Living. Now its a respectable area of intellectual inquiry. To write his groundbreaking history of African Americans, Franklin found it necessary to retell the story of the evolution of the people of the United States in order to place the Negro in his proper relationship and perspective, he wrote in the books preface. From Slavery to Freedom complemented the countrys changing intellectual climate and growing sentiment for equal rights for blacks. It legitimized the academic study of African American history and remains the Bible of the field, according to Professor Louis Harlan of the University of Maryland. Before the book appeared, black history was being ignored, Harlan said in a 1990 U.S. News & World Report article. That was hard to do after Franklin marshaled overwhelming evidence of the role blacks played in American history.

Revising Southern History

Despite his success at propelling the study of black history into the academic mainstream, Franklin maintained his identification as a Southern historian. Its often assumed Im a scholar of Afro-American history, but the fact is I havent taught a course in Afro-American history in 30-some-odd years, he told the New York Times Book Review in 1990. My specialty is the history of the South, and that means I teach the history of blacks and whites.

Franklin accepted a professorship at Howard University, a prestigious black institution in the nations capital, in 1947. Continuing his research on Southern history and publishing a steady stream of articles, he coped as best he could with segregated seating in archives and libraries and exclusion from toilets, hotels, and even restaurants near the Library of Congress well into the 1950s. But for him, a Negro scholar searching for truth, the search for food in the city of Washington was one of the minor inconveniences, Franklin wrote in The Dilemma of the American Negro Scholar, published in Race and History. In the same essay he confessed to channeling his emotions into unpublished articles to keep his fury at racism from intruding on his scholastic pursuit of the truth.

His published work on various aspects of Southern history sought a better understanding of the entire South and all of its people, Franklin wrote in Race and History. It also attacked the historical status quo. The Militant South, 18001860, appearing in 1956, was a pioneering examination of the Southern psychea search to find answers to why the South invariably reacted violently to crisis situations. If American in general has been a land of violence, it was the South that institutionalized it and bestowed on it an aura of respectability, Franklin wrote. He identified the regions peculiar economic and social institutions, particularly slavery, as the reasons. Throughout their history, many Southerners have continued to invoke the rule of personal judgment alive what the law was, he argued. Keeping this tradition as to making it a part of the apparatus for maintaining white supremacy became a way of life in the south. Though some traditionalists called the book a Negro view of the Old South, it is now considered a point of departure for Southern scholars according to Carol Blesser, a historian from Clemson University, as quoted in U.S. News & World Report.

His next book, Reconstruction After the Civil War, published in 1961, exposed earlier historical fallacies about this era. There was no long Northern military occupation of the South; no seizure of vast political power by incompetent blacks; and too large a role previously given to carpetbaggers. In fact, Franklin pointed out, Radical Republican rule in the South lasted less than a decade in all but three states and was not marked by excessive black misconduct or poor government, a view now widely accepted.

Other books followed, including The Emancipation Proclamation in 1963 and Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North in 1976. That same year, Franklin delivered the National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture in three parts in three different cities during the American bicentennial. In his lecture, published as Racial Equality in America, he confronted the countrys persistent disparity between the goal of racial equality and the facts of discrimination.

Civil Rights Activist

Franklins prominence as a historian aided him in his role as racial pioneer. His appointment as Chairman of a department of 52 white historians at Brooklyn College in 1956 became front-page news in the New York Times. Still, it took him more than a year and the help of a shrewd lawyer to locate, buy, and finance a home in the neighborhood surrounding the college.

To counter such discrimination, Franklin frequently aided the NAACPs legal efforts to achieve equality. He served as an expert witness in Lyman Johnson v. The University of Kentucky in 1949, a case that successfully challenged that states separate but equal graduate education system. In 1953 he spent two months commuting between Washington and New York for the upcoming Brown v. Board of Education case that would overthrow separate but equal grade schools the following year. Franklin worked with the lawyers, wrote historical essays, and provided a historical setting for their legal questions. Using ones skills to influence public policy seemed to be a satisfactory middle ground between an ivory tower posture of isolation and disengagement and a posture of passionate advocacy that too often deserted the canons of scholarship, he later wrote in Race and History.

In 1962 Franklin became the first African American ever elected to membership in Washington D.C.s exclusive Cosmos Club. The following year, serving as Pitt Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge, he appeared on British television to explain the civil rights movementin particular black student James Merediths attempts to enter the University of Mississippi and 1963s historic March on Washingtonto viewers.

Back in the United States, he joined Martin Luther Kings 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery with 30 other historians. More recently, he testified against Robert Borks nomination to the Supreme Court before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987. In an Ebony magazine article in 1990, he described himself as living two separate livesone as a historian, carefully guarding the limits that one can go in that area, and another as an activist citizen, trying to change things in society.

Throughout his career, Franklin has remained committed to integration. He has never bowed to the pressure of fashions and the propaganda of black nationalism, Yale historian C. Vann Woodward told U.S. News & World Report. After joining the University of Chicago in 1964, Franklin opposed student attempts to establish a separate black studies program.

Continuing Passion

Franklin later served as chairman of the University of Chicagos history department from 1967 to 1970 and became the schools John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in 1969. He moved to Duke University in 1982 as James B. Duke Professor of History, becoming professor emeritus in 1985 when he joined Dukes law school as professor of legal history.

In 1990 he and his wife, Aurelia, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. They met in 1931, married in 1940, and became parents of their only child, John, twelve years later. Franklin is also a world traveler, avid fisherman, and orchid grower. His custom-built greenhouse holds more than 1,000 of the flowers, including Phalaenopsis John Hope Franklin, a white-and-red hybrid recognized by Britains Royal Horticultural Society.

Well past retirement age, Franklins passion for history remains strong. I love to teach. I love to write. And I love to lecture to the public on historic subjects, he told Ebony magazine in 1990. These thingsindividually and togetherare exciting to me. They make my existence worthwhile.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates Franklins drive than his 40-year quest to write a biography of George Washington Williams, author of the first scholarly account of American blacks. In his essay Stalking George Washington Williams, Franklin conveys his astonishment and elation at discovering this early black historians two-volume History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 in 1945. Determined to write Williamss biography, Franklin set out to learn more about this elusive figure. In his brief 42 years, Williams had fought in two wars, served as a pastor in several churches, been a lawyer, an editor, the first black in the Ohio Legislature, and a world traveler.

Following Williamss trail to Boston, Washington, Cincinnati, Zaire, Belgium, Germany, and England, Franklin reached countless dead ends, but was unwilling to give up. He found the key at the Syracuse University Library in the uncatalogued papers of railroad magnate Collis Huntington, a patron of Williamss later life. In 1975, 30 years after beginning his quest, Franklin laid a wreath at Williamss unmarked grave in Blackpool, England. Ten years later, George Washington Williams: A Biography was published and the pioneering historian memorialized with a black granite tombstone.

Summing up 50 years of historical writing, Franklin collected 27 of his essays, including his brief autobiography, in Race and History: Selected Essays 19381988. Looking back over his career in the books preface, Franklin reflected on the enormous satisfaction to this historian who seeks to mine the various quarries of the past in the belief that good history is a good foundation for a better present and future.

Selected writings

The Free Negro in North Carolina, 17901860, University of North Carolina Press, 1943.

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947.

The Militant South, 18001860, Belknap, 1956.

Reconstruction After the Civil War, University of Chicago Press, 1961.

The Emancipation Proclamation, Doubleday, 1963.

(With John w. Caughey and Ernest R. May) Land of the Free, Benziger, 1965.

(With the editors of Time-Life Books) Illustrated History of Black Americans, Time-Life, Inc., 1970.

A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North, Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

Racial Equality in America, University of Chicago Press, 1976.

George Washington Williams: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Race and History: Selected Essays 19381988, Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

The Color Line: Legacy to the Twenty-first Century, University of Missouri Press, 1993.


The Civil War Diary of James T. Ayers, Illinois State Historical Society, 1947.

(With Isadore Starr) The Negro in the Twentieth Century, Random House, 1967.

Color and Race, Houghton, 1968.

Reminiscences of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John R. Lynch, University of Chicago Press, 1970.

(With August Meier) Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Also editor of Albion Tourgees Fools Errand, 1961; T.W. Higginsons Army Life in a Black Regiment, 1962; and W. E. B. Du Boiss Suppression of the African Slave-Trade, 1969.



Franklin, John Hope, George Washington Williams: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Franklin, John Hope, The Militant South, 18001860, Belknap, 1956.

Franklin, John Hope, Race and History: Selected Essays 19381988, Louisiana State University Press, 1990.


Ebony, February 1990; November 1990.

Journal of American History, September 1990.

New Republic, April 30, 1990.

New York Times Book Review, June 3, 1990.

People, October 29, 1979.

Southern Living, June 1990.

U.S. News & World Report, September 17, 1990.

James J. Podesta

Franklin, John Hope 1915–

views updated May 23 2018

Franklin, John Hope 1915–

PERSONAL: Born January 2, 1915, in Rentiesville, OK; son of Buck Colbert (an attorney and the first African American judge to sit in chancery in Oklahoma district court) and Mollie (Parker) Franklin; married Aurelia E. Whittington (a librarian), June 11, 1940 (died, 1999); children: John Whittington. Education: Fisk University, A.B., 1935; Harvard University, A.M., 1936, Ph.D., 1941. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, growing orchids.

ADDRESSES: Home—208 Pineview Rd., Durham, NC 27707. Office—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Sq., New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Fisk University, Nashville, TN, instructor, 1936–37; St. Augustine's College, Raleigh, NC, instructor, 1938–43; North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), Durham, NC, instructor in history, 1943–47; Howard University, Washington, DC, professor of history, 1947–56; Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, professor of history and chair of department, 1956–64; Fulbright professor, Australia, 1960; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, professor of history, 1964–82, chair of history department, 1967–70; John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor, 1969–82, professor emeritus, 1982—Duke University, Durham, NC, James B. Duke Professor of History, 1982–85, professor emeritus, 1985–. Fulbright distinguished lecturer, Zimbabwe, 1986; visiting professor at University of California, Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, University of Hawaii, Australia National University, Salzburg (Austria) Seminar, and other institutions; Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Cambridge University, 1962–63. Board of Foreign Scholarships, member, 1962–69, chair, 1966–69; National Council on Humanities, member, 1976–79. Member of board of trustees, Fisk University, 1947–84, Chicago Symphony, 1976–80, National Humanities Center, 1980–91, and De Sable Museum, Chicago University, 1970–; member of board of directors, Salzburg Seminar, Museum of Science and Industry, 1968–80. Advisory board chair, President William Jefferson Clinton's Special Presidential Commission for One America: The President's Initiative on Race. Member of the board of the United States National Slavery Museum, Fredericksburg, VA.

MEMBER: American Historical Association (member of executive council, 1959–62; president, 1978–79), Organization of American Historians (president, 1974–75), Association for Study of Negro Life and History, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP; member of board of directors, Legal Defense and Education Fund), American Studies Association, American Association of University Professors, American Philosophical Society (Jefferson Medal, 1993), Southern Historical Association (life member; president, 1970–71), Phi Beta Kappa (senate, 1966–82, president, 1973–76), Phi Alpha Theta.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edward Austin fellowships, 1937–39; presidents' fellowships, Brown University, 1952–53; Guggenheim fellowships, 1950–51, 1973–74; Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences fellowships, 1973–74; Jules F. Landry Award, 1975, for A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North; named to Oklahoma Hall of Fame, 1978; Clarence L. Holte Literary Award, 1986, for George Washington Williams: A Biography; Cleanth Brooks Medal, Fellowship of Southern Writers, 1989; Gold Medal, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990; Caldwell Medal, North Carolina Council on Humanities, 1992 and 1993; Charles Frankel Medal, 1993; Bruce Catton Prize from the Society of American Historians and Sidney Hook Award from Phi Beta Kappa, both 1994; NAACP Spingarn Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, W.E.B. Du Bois Award, Alpha Phi Alpha Award of Merit, and Organization of American Historians Award, all 1995; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1997, for Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life; named to Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame, 1997; Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, 1997. Recipient of honorary degrees from more than 135 colleges and universities, including LL.D. from Morgan State University, 1960, Lincoln University, 1961, Virginia State College, 1961, Hamline University, 1965, Lincoln College, 1965, Fisk University, 1965, Columbia University, 1969, University of Notre Dame, 1970, and Harvard University, 1981; A.M. from Cambridge University, 1962; L.H.D. from Long Island University, 1964, University of Massachusetts, 1964, and Yale University, 1977; and Litt.D. from Princeton University, 1972. Black Issues in Higher Education established the John Hope Franklin Awards for Excellence in Higher Education; the John Hope Franklin Institute was established at Duke University.


The Free Negro in North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1943, reprinted with a new foreword and bibliographic afterword by the author, 1995.

(With Alfred A. Moss, Jr.) From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1947, reprinted as From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 8th edition, 2000.

The Militant South, 1800–1860, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 1956, revised edition, 1970, reprinted, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2002.

Reconstruction after the Civil War, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1962, 2nd edition, 1995.

The Emancipation Proclamation, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1995.

(With John W. Caughey and Ernest R. May) Land of the Free: A History of the United States, Benziger (Mission Hills, CA), 1965, teacher's edition, 1971.

(With the editors of Time-Life Books) An Illustrated History of Black Americans, Time-Life (New York, NY), 1970.

Racial Equality in America, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1976.

A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.

George Washington Williams: A Biography, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1985, reprinted with a new preface, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1998.

Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938–1988, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1990.

The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1993.

(With William M. Banks) Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Loren Schweninger) Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Loren Schweninger) In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to anthologies, including Problems in American History, edited by Arthur S. Link and Richard Leopold, 1952, 2nd revised edition, 1966; The Negro Thirty Years Afterward, edited by Rayford W. Logan, 1955; Issues in University Education, edited by Charles Frankel, 1959; Lincoln for the Ages, edited by Ralph Newman, 1960; The Southerner as American, edited by Charles G. Sellars, Jr., 1960; Soon One Morning, edited by Herbert Hill, 1963; The Atlantic Future, edited by H.V. Hodson, 1964; The South in Continuity and Change, edited by John C. McKinney and Edgar T. Thompson, 1965; New Frontiers of the American Reconstruction, edited by Harold Hyman, 1966; An American Primer, edited by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1968; The Comparative Approach to American History, edited by C. Vann Woodward, 1968; William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer, edited by William Edward Farrison, 1969; Henry Ossawa Tanner, American Artist, edited by Marcia M. Mathews, 1969; Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, edited by Alfreda M. Duster, 1970; Chant of Saints, edited by Michael S. Harper, 1979; The Voices of Negro Protest in America, edited by William H. Burns, 1980; A Melting Pot or a Nation of Minorities, edited by Robert L. Payton, 1986; This Road to Freedom, edited by Eric C. Lincoln, 1990; American Studies in Black and White: Selected Essays, 1949–1989, edited by Sidney Kaplan and Allan Austin, 1991; and To Be Free, edited by Herbert Aptheker, 1992.

Author of forewords to history books by others, including Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, 1982; Timuel D. Black, Jr., Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration, 2003; Judge Robert L. Carter, A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights, 2005; and Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams, The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views, 2006.

Also author of pamphlets for U.S. Information Service and Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith; contributor of articles to numerous journals and periodicals, including Daedalus.


The Civil War Diary of J.T. Ayers, Illinois State Historical Society (Springfield, IL), 1947, reprinted, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1999.

Albion Tourgee, A Fool's Errand, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 1961.

T.W. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1962.

Three Negro Classics, Avon (New York, NY), 1965.

(With Isadore Starr) The Negro in Twentieth-Century America: A Reader on the Struggle for Civil Rights, Vintage (New York, NY), 1967.

Color and Race, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1968.

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1969.

John R. Lynch, Reminiscences of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John R. Lynch, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1970.

(With August Meier) Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1982.

(With Genna Rae McNeil) African Americans and the Living Constitution, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1995.

(With John Whittington Franklin) My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1997.

Coeditor of American history series for Crowell and AHM Publishing, 1964; general editor of "Zenith Book" series on secondary education, Doubleday, 1965; general editor of "Negro American Biographies and Autobiographies" series, University of Chicago Press, 1969; coeditor of "American History Series," Harlan Davidson, 1985.

ADAPTATIONS: Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin was adapted for audio (abridged; six CDs), read by Franklin, Audio Renaissance, 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: John Hope Franklin is a much-honored American educator and the first black historian to be offered a full professorship at a white college. Early in his career, he worked with civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall on the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. Later, Franklin served President Bill Clinton by chairing his Special Presidential Commission for One America: The President's Initiative on Race. Franklin has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, and more than 135 honorary degrees. Nearly all of the author's numerous books remain in print.

Franklin's general history titled From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, first published in 1947 and later titled From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, was published in its eighth edition in 2000. It is considered by many to be the standard text on African American history and continues to be included in college curricula. The Journal of Negro History dedicated its winter-spring, 2000 issue to the reprinting. In an overview, a contributor to the journal credited Franklin's wife, Aurelia, then a law librarian at the North Carolina College for Negroes, with providing the support and financial assistance that enabled Franklin to conduct his research at the Library of Congress and write the book.

In one of the tributes contained in the special issue of the Journal of Negro History, Darlene Clark Hine noted that "Franklin refused to write a history of victims. 'The history of the Negro in America is essentially a story of the striving of the nameless millions who have sought adjustment in a new and sometimes hostile world. This work is, therefore, a history of the Negro people, with a proper consideration for anonymous as well as outstanding people.'" Hine concluded: "The book and John Hope Franklin justifiably deserve iconic status in the world of Black words. Franklin once observed, 'If one believes in the power of his own words and in the words of others, one must also hope and believe that the world will be a better place by our having spoken or written those words.' Our world is indeed a better place because fifty years ago John Hope Franklin wrote From Slavery to Freedom. Thank you, John Hope." The author's overall contributions to the field of black history prompted Roy Wilkins to write in the New Republic: "John Hope Franklin is an uncommon historian who has consistently corrected in eloquent language the misre-cording of this country's rich heritage."

Author of the critically acclaimed George Washington Williams: A Biography, Franklin "has long been a leader in the study of Afro-American life," commented Ira Berlin in the New York Times Book Review. For five decades, the distinguished Franklin has pioneered a number of historical studies; included among his books are Reconstruction after the Civil War, The Emancipation Proclamation, and Racial Equality in America, an examination of the egalitarian principles of America's founding fathers.

George Washington Williams represents forty years of research into the life and achievements of the nineteenth-century black historian. "Beginning in 1945 with less than a dozen letters and a hasty reading of Wil-liams's African diary, which has since disappeared," remarked Louis R. Harlan in the Washington Post Book World, "Franklin has painstakingly gathered the pieces of evidence from three continents and, like an archaeologist, reconstructed a mosaic that is astonishingly lifelike." Soldier, journalist, public speaker, and historian, the multifaceted Williams was the author of History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880. This two-volume history, published in 1883, represents one of the first scholarly treatments of the black experience in America. Berlin pointed out that "one of the most significant achievements of Mr. Franklin's biography is that it restores Williams to his proper place in the development of an American historiography."

An aspect of George Washington Williams that reviewers found particularly interesting was the insight offered into Franklin's own life as an African American historian. "Stalking George Washington Williams," the title of the book's opening chapter, "offers a unique view of the historian as detective as well as scholar," noted Berlin. "Beginning in 1945 when the author—who had never taken a course in Afro-American history—first considered writing a general history of black Americans, he sensed the connection between his own pioneering work and that of Williams. Through the next four decades he stalked his subject from Williams's origins in a small Pennsylvania town, across North America, to Mexico, to Europe, to central Africa, to Egypt and finally to England where Williams died. George Washington Williams is thus part autobiography and part general history—a mixture that makes for fascinating and engaging reading." James Olney commented in Southern Review that "the major interest of the book is that the life of John Hope Franklin is fully present in the (re)creation of the life of George Washington Williams, his predecessor, his forefather, perhaps his alter ego."

In 1975, thirty years into his study of Williams, Franklin discovered that the historian's burial place was an unmarked grave in a cemetery near the center of Blackpool, England. Accompanied by his wife, two reporters, and a photographer, Franklin laid a wreath at the site, now marked by a tablet that reads, "George Washington Williams, Afro-American Historian, 1849–1891." Olney drew a comparison to author Alice Walker's discovery of the unmarked grave of author Zora Neale Hurston, commenting on the particular importance of Franklin's work in African American history. "Just as Afro-American literary history is a matter of recovering predecessors, of reviving and revising, of crossing and combining ancestral figures, so also Afro-American history, in the person and present moment of John Hope Franklin, devotes itself to recovering and resuscitating the ancestral past and to rescuing its own particular progenitors and predecessors from the obscurity that has been so often their fate in this country."

Franklin, however, does not see himself solely as a black historian. In a review of his book Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938–1988 in the Washington Post Book World, Franklin supported this notion again. "Very early," he said, "I learned that scholarship knows no national boundaries." According to Drew Gilpin Faust in the New York Times Book Review, Franklin "insists on the importance of maintaining the boundary between advocacy and scholarship. Historical work, with its established standards for evaluation of evidence, must not be 'polluted by passion'; we must not simply turn the past into a mirror of our own present-day concerns." Faust contended that Franklin's "life and work represent a commitment to learning as an important way to 'bear witness' in a society that he, perhaps better than any American scholar alive today, knows to be far from perfect."

This commitment to learning was the impetus behind The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century, a seventy-five-page book covering over two hundred years of history. Franklin's premise is that the color line of which African American writer, educator, and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois spoke is such a dominant part of American culture that it has created ongoing opposition to the African American effort to become a part of society. The tone is not scholarly, but instead, easy and accessible for nonhistorians. In the New York Times Book Review, Carl Senna wrote that "few will fault the reasoning of Mr. Franklin's conclusions, drawn from his half-century of scholarship."

Franklin has written two books with Loren Schweninger: Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation and In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South. In the former, the authors disprove the notion that black slaves were docile and compliant. They document their resistance through plantation records, newspaper accounts, and petitions to legislatures and courts. They demonstrate that no matter how slave owners treated them, good or bad, slaves could not be constrained. The authors' research reveals that the majority of runaway slaves were either young unmarried males between the ages of thirteen and twenty-nine or, less often, married males without children.

In Search of the Promised Land is based partly on autobiographical fragments written by James Thomas, who, according to an Ebony contributor, "penned the manuscript after his children persuaded him to write recollections of his childhood" as a slave. James was bought out of slavery by his mother, Sally, after she became free, started her own business, and earned enough money for his release. In Search of the Promised Land makes use of an array of primary sources from the nineteenth century to weave the family's story into a comprehensive history of race relations. Library Journal contributor Edward G. McCormack wrote that Franklin and Schweninger "have presented an account unique in its archival richness."

Three generations of the Franklin clan were involved in the 1997 publication of My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin. Franklin teamed up with his son, John Whittington Franklin, to edit the volume. (Buck Colbert Franklin was John Hope's father and John Whittington's grandfather.) Then, in 2005, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin was published. David Oshinsky, writing in the New York Times, called the book "a riveting and bitterly candid memoir." The release of Franklin's autobiography coincided with the celebration of his ninetieth birthday. In an interview with Fred Beau-ford for Black Issues Book Review, the author retold the story of his recently being mistaken for a car valet at a hotel and expressed anger over the fact that racial oppression still permeates American society 150 years after the Civil War's end. As Franklin told Beauford: "Just keep in mind, the system wants to stay the way it is. It does not want to be attacked or molested in any way. So a few of us are being let in, but that doesn't mean that much has changed."



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 5, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Franklin, John Hope, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938–1988, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1990.

Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 8th edition, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.

Franklin, John Hope, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.


Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2005, Fred Beauford, interview with the author, p. 46.

Black Issues in Higher Education, January 18, 2001, Joan Morgan, "Creating a Fitting Tribute," p. 26; May 24, 2001, Wilma King, review of Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, p. 27.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 17, 2005, "John Hope Franklin Publishes Memoirs of Life," p. 16.

Ebony, August, 2005, review of In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South, p. 26.

Journal of Negro History, winter-spring, 2000, V.P. Franklin, "From Slavery to Freedom: The Journey from Our Known Past to Our Unknown Future," p. 6, Debra Newman Ham, "John Hope Franklin: And the Year of Jubilee," p. 14, Darlene Clark Hine, "Paradigms, Politic, and Patriarchy in the Making of a Black History: Reflections on From Slavery to Freedom," p. 18, Thomas Holt, "From Slavery to Freedom and the Conceptualization of African-American History," p. 22, "A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration: From Slavery to Freedom," p. 65; spring, 2001, review of Runaway Slaves, p. 195.

Journal of Southern History, February, 2001, Carol Wilson, review of Runaway Slaves, p. 172.

Library Journal, September 1, 2005, Edward G. McCormack, review of In Search of the Promised Land, p. 160.

New Republic, January 22, 1977, Roy Wilkins, review of Racial Equality in America.

New York Times, November 27, 2005, David Oshinsky, review of Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin.

New York Times Book Review, November 17, 1985, Ira Berlin, review of George Washington Williams: A Biography; June 3, 1990, Drew Gilpin Faust, review of Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938–1988; February 21, 1993, Carl Senna, review of The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 9, 2006, Carlin Romano, review of Mirror to America.

Southern Review, spring, 1986, James Olney, review of George Washington Williams.

Washington Post Book World, January 11, 1986, Louis R. Harlan, review of George Washington Williams; October 21, 1990, review of Race and History.


Duke University Libraries Web site, (February 21, 2006), biography of John Hope Franklin.


First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin (documentary film), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1997.

John Hope Franklin

views updated Jun 27 2018

John Hope Franklin

A pioneer African American historian, John Hope Franklin (born 1915) was a highly respected scholar who wrote on many aspects of American history.

John Hope Franklin, the son of Buck and Mollie (Parker) Franklin, was born on January 2, 1915, in the small predominantly African American village of Rentiesville, Oklahoma. His father was a lawyer and his mother an elementary school teacher. Thanks to his mother, Franklin received his first taste of education when he was three years old. "Since there were no day-care centers in the village where we lived, she had no alternative to taking me to school and seating me in the back where she could keep an eye on me," Franklin recalled. When he was about five his mother noticed that he was no longer scribbling on the sheet of paper she gave him, but writing words and sentences.

After studying in the public schools of Rentiesville and Tulsa, he enrolled at Fisk University, intending to prepare himself for a career in law. But under the influence of a stimulating history professor, Theodore S. Currier, he changed to a history major. With Currier's strong encouragement, Franklin pursued graduate work at Harvard University, earning a doctorate in 1941. "The course of study was satisfactory but far from extraordinary," he commented in 1988. "Mark Hopkins was seldom on the other end of the log, and one had to fend for himself as best he could." His doctoral dissertation evolved into his first book, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 (1943).

The Past Came First

Throughout his academic career John Hope Franklin made his first priority the study and teaching of history. Despite several opportunities to leave the classroom, he had "no difficulty in saying to anyone who raised the matter that I was not interested in deanships, university presidencies, or ambassadorships." This strong commitment to scholarship and teaching began with his first jobs after Harvard. At St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina (1939-1943), and North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham (1943-1947), he managed to pursue extensive scholarly research while at the same time carrying the heavy teaching load characteristic of small liberal arts colleges. In 1947 he published his second book, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. By the early 1990s in its seventh edition (with Franklin's former student Alfred A. Moss, Jr., as co-author), From Slavery to Freedom has been both a seminal work of scholarship helping to define the emerging field of African American history and a remarkably successful textbook.

Resisted Labeling

Despite the efforts of both admirers and critics, Franklin resisted being characterized as an African American who wrote solely on African American topics. Likewise, he did not want others to perceive him as a scholar who wished to present an African American view of the South, slavery, or Reconstruction. "The tragedy," Franklin told a New York Times Book Review writer in 1990, is that black scholars so often have their specialties forced on them. My specialty is the history of the South, and that means I teach the history of blacks and whites."

He followed up From Slavery to Freedom with a provocative study of the souls of white folk, The Militant South, 1800-1860 (1956), a book that described the Old South as distinctively touchy, honor-conscious, and militaristic. He then turned to a pressing national issue. Writing in 1961 amid the commemoration of the centennial of the Civil War, Franklin wrote an influential interpretative essay (Reconstruction: After the Civil War) that challenged the then widely-held view that the Civil War had ended in an era of "national disgrace. "The book gave Franklin national prominence as one of the leading revisionists of Reconstruction historiography. Perhaps surprisingly, Franklin, in a 1995 New York Times Magazine interview, articulated an affection for the South. "Blacks, even when they left the South, didn't stop having affection for it. They just couldn't make it there. Then they found the North had its problems too, so you look for a place of real ease and contentment where you could live as a civilized human being. That's the South. It's more congenial; the pace is better; the races get along better. It's a sense of place. It's home." Nonetheless, Franklin left that place of ease for academic rigor.

Opportunity in the North

Franklin moved in 1947 from North Carolina College to Howard University, where he taught until 1956. When he accepted an appointment as chairman of the history department at Brooklyn College, the event was heralded on the front page of The New York Times: no African American historian had ever before held a full-time position in a predominantly white university. In 1964, shortly after publishing his fifth book, The Emancipation Proclamation, he was invited to join the history faculty at the University of Chicago.

A major consideration "in the move to Chicago was the opportunity to teach graduate students," said Franklin. "I realized that with all my frantic efforts at research and writing I would never be able to write on all the subjects in which I was deeply interested." In training a new generation of scholars, Franklin extended "immeasurably" his own "sense of accomplishment." In 18 years at the University of Chicago he supervised some thirty doctoral dissertations.

During the Chicago years Franklin was repeatedly honored by his scholarly colleagues, serving as president of the Southern Historical Association (1970), the Organization of American History (1975), Phi Beta Kappa (1973-1976), and the American Historical Association (1979). He was selected as the Jefferson Lecturer of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1976 (publishing a revised version of his three lectures as Racial Equality in America). At the University of Chicago itself he served four years as chairman of the history department and was appointed John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in 1969.

He continued to be a prolific scholar, co-authoring a survey history of the United States (Land of the Free) and an illustrated history of African Americans. He edited several important works, including Reminiscences of an Active: The Autobiography of John R. Lynch and (with August Meier) Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (1982). In addition, he wrote another well-received monograph, A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North (1976). He was undeterred even by retirement, first from the University of Chicago in 1982 and then in 1985 from the James B. Duke Professorship at Duke University. He completed his biography of the 19th-century African American scholar George Washington Williams in 1985; continued his study of runaway slaves; and revised From slavery to Freedom. In 1992 he wrote The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, which was built on W.E.B. DuBois' prophesy that the problems of the 20th century would involve racial issues. In addition, he taught at the Duke University Law School from 1985 to 1992. In 1993 he was awarded the Charles Frankel Prize by President Bill Clinton for contributing to public understanding of the humanities. Two years later, Clinton honored Franklin again with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Race Relations Point Man

Recognition by Clinton was not limited to medals. In June 1997, Clinton appointed Franklin to chair a panel of eight to oversee a year-long initiative on race relations. At the time of his appointment, Franklin promised not to mince words in his talks with Clinton. "I think I'm valuable only to the extent that I am honest and candid," he told a writer for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Over the course of his long academic career, Franklin was a visiting professor at many universities, including Cambridge University; twice held Guggenheim fellowships; and received honorary degrees from more than ninety colleges and universities.

A man of strong political ideals, Franklin once wrote, "I could not have avoided being a social activist even if I had wanted to." He played an important role in the historical research involved in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, served as an informal adviser to Jesse Jackson, and actively campaigned against the confirmation of the appointment of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. At the same time he insisted that scholarship and politics must be kept separate and warned his fellow historians against the danger of allowing their concern with the "urgent matters of their own time" to distort their "view of an earlier period."

Despite his enviable march through the halls of academia, or perhaps because of it, Franklin still saw room for much improvement in U.S. race relations at the end of the twentieth century. "I'd be afraid to raise a black child in America today, not merely because of what would happen to him in the black community but in the white community too," he told The New York Times Magazine.

Franklin married his college classmate, the former Aurelia Whittington. They had one son, John Whittington, who became a program officer at the Smithsonian Institute. Franklin also had a foster son, Bouna Ndiaye, a native of Senegal. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Franklin was an avid cultivator of orchids, including the officially registered hybrid phalaenopsis, John Hope Franklin.

Further Reading

In addition to Franklin's writing listed in the text see John Hope Franklin, "A Life of Learning," American Council of Learned Societies Occasional Paper, No. 4; "Revising the Old South," U.S. News and World Report (September 17, 1990); "Fifty Years of Exploring the Past: The Unfinished History of John Hope Franklin," Ebony (February 1990); Eric Anderson and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., The Facts of Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of John Hope Franklin (1991).

Additional Sources

Applebome, Peter, "Keeping Tabs On Jim Crow: John Hope Franklin," The New York Times Magazine, April 23, 1995, p. 34.

Pomerantz, Gary M., "John Hope Franklin: Scholar With A Mission," The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 13, 1997, pp. A10. □

Franklin, John Hope

views updated May 18 2018


(b. 2 January 1915 in Rentiesville, Oklahoma), historian, professor, and activist whose writings helped create the intellectual foundations of the fight by African Americans for civil rights.

Franklin was the youngest of four children of Buck Colbert Franklin, a lawyer, and Mollie Parker, a teacher. He started college at Fisk University with the intention of following his father into the legal profession, but a history course inspired him to change his career plans. After earning a doctorate from Harvard in 1941, he taught at Fisk University, Saint Augustine's College, North Carolina College, and Howard University. While at Howard, Thurgood Marshall, then director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund, recruited him to work on the historical background for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

In 1956 the New York Times ran a front-page article on Franklin's appointment as the chair of the history department at Brooklyn College, reporting that as far as was known he was the first African-American chair of any academic department in the New York State college system. Franklin taught at Brooklyn from 1956 to 1964, a watershed experience for him because, for the first time, he was not part of an African-American community but in a predominantly white environment. While at Brooklyn he published his revised second edition of From Slavery to Freedom (first published in 1947), and three new seminal works: The Militant South (1956), Reconstruction After the Civil War (1961), and The Emancipation Proclamation (1963). Franklin also edited two books and published over twenty articles in newspapers, books, and scholarly journals.

Reconstruction After the Civil War has been instrumental in overturning the dogma on Reconstruction propounded by the "Columbian school" of historians, and the distorted images that filmmaker D. W. Griffith in his Intolerance (1916) and Birth of a Nation (1915) burned into the popular mind. Franklin's new paradigm was crucial in creating a more positive image of African Americans. He showed that the promise that was held out to the newly freed slaves had been most unjustly denied them.

The Militant South, 1800–1861 was a pioneering study that traced the region's antebellum tendency toward violence, a predilection that increased as abolitionist pressure grew and militant whites saw themselves and their institutions, primarily slavery, threatened. Its publication in a popular paperback format in 1964 came at a time when white southerners' aggressive "massive resistance" to desegregation in education, and violence directed against the Freedom Riders and voter registration activists, seemed an echo of the previous century.

In the academic year 1962–1963 Franklin was honored with the Pitt Professorship of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University. While in England he also served as a commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), providing an American perspective on events. Two major incidents on which he commented were the 1962 attempt by James Meredith to enter the University of Mississippi, and the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963 Franklin was elected the first African-American member of the Cosmos Club, an elite Washington, D.C., institution of intellectuals in science, literature, and the arts. President John F. Kennedy appointed Franklin to the Board of Foreign Scholarships, the first of many governmental assignments, capped in 1997 when he was named chair of the advisory board for President William J. Clinton's initiative on race and reconciliation.

In 1964 Franklin was appointed professor of American history at the University of Chicago, one of the most renowned history departments in the United States. He served as chair of the department from 1967 to 1970 and was awarded the prestigious John Manly Distinguished Service Professorship in 1969. The University of Chicago held a strong attraction for Franklin, not only because of the outstanding reputation of its history program, but also because he had graduate students to assist him in his research. Although Franklin's intellectual contributions to the cause of the civil rights movement were paramount, he did walk with a group of historians in the historic Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in March 1965, but as he said, "I doubt that Martin [Luther King, Jr.] ever knew that I was there, far back in the ranks as I was."

Franklin's scholarship and publishing did not diminish during his eighteen years at Chicago, with three revisions of From Slavery to Freedom, and its translation into several languages. Major new books were A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Ante-Bellum North (1976), and Racial Equality in America (1976); he also wrote scores of journal and newspaper articles and book chapters.

Overall, however, Franklin's highly respected From Slavery to Freedom has been his most influential publication, selling over two million copies. By 2002 it was in its eighth edition and had become the definitive textbook on African-American history. Its scope is broad, covering the African beginnings and touching on the Canadian and South American experiences. Although it did not sell well at first, the book's reputation grew as colleges and universities began to implement courses and programs in black studies in the 1960s and later. This is somewhat ironic, because when he was at the University of Chicago, Franklin opposed the establishment of a black studies program, a stance for which younger activists accused him of being an ivory-tower academic.

Franklin always considered himself a part of the mainstream, a believer in integration, and saw his scholarship as enlightening the nation as to the integral nature of the contributions of black Americans to the American story. He opposed black studies programs because he believed standard courses should increase their coverage of the accomplishments of black Americans and feared that separate programs would lead to intellectual segregation. It is due to the work of Franklin and others that the achievements of African Americans are no longer seen as a minor tributary of the nation's history. He has changed the way U.S. history is studied and taught.

Franklin left Chicago and returned to the South in 1982, when he was named the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University, a position he holds in an emeritus status since his retirement in 1985. From 1985 to 1992 he was professor of legal history in the Duke University Law School. Franklin has served as president of the three major historical associations, and is the first African American to head both the Southern Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. He has also served as the president of Phi Beta Kappa. He is recognized as the dean of black historians, the nation's leading scholar of African-American history, and is one of the most celebrated American historians with well over one hundred honorary degrees.

Throughout his career Franklin found that the things that made his life worthwhile were his love for teaching, lecturing, doing research, and helping his students. He also grows orchids. His greenhouse contains over 700 specimens, and has he one variety named after him. He was married to Aurelia Whittington Franklin from 1940 until she died in 1999. He has one son.

Franklin's papers are held at the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African-American Documentation at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He is currently working on his autobiography, to be titled The Vintage Years. The Web site of the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies at html includes a bibliography and news about Franklin. The one-hour Public Broadcasting System (PBS) video directed by Dick Young, First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin (1997), provides insight into the character of the soft-spoken historian.

Sean P. Maloney

Franklin, John Hope

views updated May 23 2018

Franklin, John Hope

January 2, 1915

Historian and educator John Hope Franklin was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, an exclusively African-American town. At an early age he came to be introduced to white custom, law, and justice in the South. His father, a lawyer, was expelled from court by a white judge who told him that no black person could ever practice law in his court. Young Franklin was himself ejected, along with his mother (an elementary school teacher) and sister, from a train because his mother refused to move from the coach designated for whites. After moving to Tulsa in 1926, Franklin attended Booker T. Washington High School and learned the meaning of a "separate but equal" educationinferior facilities and a sharply limited curriculum. His avid interest in music introduced him to the Jim Crow seats in the local concert hall. He went on to receive his B.A. at Fisk University in 1935 and his Ph.D. in history at Harvard University in 1941.

Throughout his career, Franklin combined scholarship with social activism. As student body president at Fisk University, he protested the lynching of a local black man to the mayor, the governor, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Having once been barred from entering the University of Oklahoma to pursue graduate studies, he readily agreed to the request of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that he be an expert witness for a black student seeking admission to the graduate program in history at the University of Kentucky. At the request of Thurgood Marshall, he served on the research team whose work led to the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation. In 1965 he joined more than thirty other historians on the civil rights march into Montgomery, Alabama.

Like Carter Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois, Franklin demonstrated to a skeptical or indifferent profession that the history of black Americans was a legitimate field for scholarly research. His first book, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 17901860 (1943), explored the anomalous position of free blacks in the slave South. Reconstruction After the Civil War (1961) was a revisionist treatment of the unique experiment in biracial democratic government in the postwar South, particularly in its depiction of blacks as active participants and leaders, not simply as victims or passive tools of white politicians. In The Militant South (1956) and A Southern Odyssey (1976), Franklin explored different facets of the southern experience and varieties of southern white expression. His Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities for 1976, "Racial Equality in America," probed that troubled and elusive search. In a turn to biography, his George Washington Williams (1985) traced the life of a historian who wrote in the 1880s the first substantial and scholarly history of black Americans. For hundreds of thousands of students, Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom (first published in 1947) introduced them to African-American history. In Race and History (1989) he brought together his most important essays and lectures, including his autobiographical sketch and reflections, "A Life of Learning."

In his books, as in his teaching, Franklin transcends the distinction between African-American and American history. He has underscored the unique quality of the history of African Americans even as he has viewed that history as an intimate part of American history, inseparable from and a central theme in the national experience. Rejecting the need to replace old distortions with new myths and eulogistic sketches of heroes and heroines, he has demonstrated his full appreciation of the complexity and integrity of the American and African-American past.

Franklin's early teaching career included stints at Fisk University, St. Augustine's College, North Carolina Central College, and Howard University. In 1956 he went to Brooklyn College as chairman of the department of historya department of fifty-two white historians. (The appointment made the front page of the New York Times; Franklin's troubled search for housing did not.) In 1964 he joined the history faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as chair from 1967 to 1970 and as the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982. Moving to Durham, North Carolina, he chose to diversify rather than retire, becoming the James B. Duke Professor of History and professor of legal history in the law school at Duke University.

Franklin has been elected to the presidencies of the American Studies Association, the Southern Historical Association, the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association. More than seventy colleges and universities have awarded him an honorary degree. He has served on numerous national commissions, and in 1980 was a United States delegate to the 21st General Conference of UNESCO. In 1978 the state that initially forced John Hope Franklin to undergo the humiliating rites of racial passage elected him to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Franklin retired in 1992. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and also received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. In 1997 he was called out of retirement to chair President Bill Clinton's Initiative on Race. Conservative critics accused the panel of problack bias on racial issues, and Franklin was criticized for his statement that the period after Emancipation was in many ways worse for black Americans than slavery. Despite the controversy, the commission's final report, issued in September 1998, was almost completely ignored by Congress.

In Franklin's honor, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies opened at Duke University in 2000. In 2004 the John Hope Franklin Award was established to point the spotlight on scholars and education activists.

See also Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ; Du Bois, W.E.B.; Fisk University; Howard University; Woodson, Carter G.


Franklin, John Hope. Race and History: Selected Essays, 19381988. Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1989. See especially "John Hope Franklin: A Life of Learning," pp. 277291.

leon f. litwack (1996)
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