- NAME: John Hope Franklin
- OCCUPATION: Historian, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: January 02, 1915
- DEATH DATE: March 25, 2009
- Did You Know?: John Hope Franklin, in addition to his historical scholarship, was a lover of orchids and had his own internationally recognized greenhouse.
- Did You Know?: A red-white hybrid species was named for Franklin: Phalaenopsis John Hope Franklin.
- EDUCATION: Fisk University, Harvard University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Rentiesville, Oklahoma
- PLACE OF DEATH: Durham, North Carolina
Best Known For
John Hope Franklin was a highly esteemed historian and author, known for his scholarship that focused on Southern history and racial politics.
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Born on January 2, 1915, in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, John Hope Franklin earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University before embarking on a career as one of the most renowned historians of his time. Franklin released his groundbreaking From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans in 1947, with many other titles to follow. He was also an academic leader and civil rights activist. He died on March 25, 2009, in Durham, North Carolina.
"We might be better off in some ways. But as long as we have more blacks in jail than in college, as long as we have more blacks unemployed than we have in college, as long as we have a system which will not provide adequate and decent affordable housing even for people who can afford it, we're not very far."
"The writing of history reflects the interests, predilections, and even prejudices of a given generation. This means that at the present time there is an urgent need to re-examine our past in terms of our present outlook."
"I love to teach. I love to write. And I love to lecture to the public on historic subjects. These things—individually and together—are exciting to me. They make my existence worthwhile."
"It's often assumed I'm a scholar of Afro-American history, but the fact is I haven't taught a course in Afro-American history in 30-some-odd years. My specialty is the history of the South, and that means I teach the history of blacks and whites."
"My mother and I used to have a game we'd play on our public. She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be the first negro president of the United States. And just the words were so far-fetched, so incredible that we used to really have fun, just saying it."
"One might argue the historian is the conscience of the nation, if honesty and consistency are factors that nurture the conscience."
"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."
"I have struggled to understand, how it is that we could fight for independence and, at the very same time, use that newly won independence to enslave many who had joined in the fight for independence."
John Hope Franklin was born on January 2, 1915, in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. His mother was a schoolteacher, and Franklin leaned to read and write at an early age sitting in on her classes. He went on to attend Fisk University, with the intention of following in his father's footsteps and studying law, but instead turned to history, being mentored by Theodore S. Currier.
Franklin eventually attended Harvard University, initially earning his master's and later his doctorate in 1941. He, like his parents, faced a number of racist, segregation-based obstacles, yet remained determined to pursue his career interests. He wed Aurelia E. Whittington in 1940, with the couple going on to have a son.
In 1947, with Alfred A. Knopf's publishing house, Franklin released From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, a seminal text on black history that would become globally distributed, selling millions of copies. It is credited as paving the way for the creation of African-American studies as a discipline, while Franklin has maintained that he has always been a historian of the South as opposed to solely dealing with race.
Franklin started teaching at alma mater Fisk in the mid-1930s and went on to hold faculty positions at a number of institutions, including Harvard, Howard University, New York University, Cambridge University, and Duke University Law School. Among an array of firsts, he became chair of Brooklyn College's history department in 1956, thus making him the first black scholar to be appointed department head at a mostly white college. He was also the first African-American leader of the American Historical Association.
Franklin was highly active in the Civil Rights Movement as well, though taking care to separate his activism from his objectivity as a historian. He worked with landmark cases like Lyman Johnson v. The University of Kentucky and Brown v. The Board of Education, and participated in the 1965 voting rights march that started in Selma, Alabama.
A prolific author, Franklin wrote many other books as well, including The Militant South: 1800-1806 (1956), The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (1999), co-penned with Loren Schweninger, and his 2005 autobiography, Mirror to America.
Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1995, among his more than 100 honorary degrees and additional accolades. In his later years he was appointed professor emeritus at Duke, with a building dedicated to him, and he continued to write and study.
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